Starz Media aims for big MIP splash

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It's one of the biggest challenges in the international television arena. You can be the big fish in the pond at home, but when you put up your shingle at MIPTV or MIPCOM, you can far too easily vanish into the crowd.

That's not likely to be the case with Starz Media when it pitches its tent for the first time at MIP next month in Cannes with a slate of productions that make up its calling card in the global programming marketplace.

Under the leadership of Neil Braun, president of distribution and marketing (and former president of NBC Network), the company is aggressively ramping up its international sales and production activities.

A new force in the independent production and distribution scene, Starz Media's growing library spans children's/animated fare ("Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!" for Nick Jr. and "Eloise" for Starz Kids & Family), scripted dramas ("Masters of Horror" for Showtime and ABC's upcoming "Masters of Sci-Fi"), documentaries ("Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride: Hunter S. Thompson on Film"), animated features ("Stan Lee Presents ...") and features (the horror film "Behind the Mask").

"We're starting from the get-go internationally," Braun says. "Starz is primarily a U.S.-based premium service and may be known as such to some internationally. But what everybody knows is Liberty Media, and the fact that we are owned by Liberty is a great conversation starter."

Braun says Starz is positioning itself internationally as a "full-service one-stop partner for broadcasters and producers around the world." Not only has the company positioned its programming on myriad U.S. outlets from ABC to Showtime and Sci Fi Channel -- and has an international sales operation -- but also "we are part of this $18 billion company," he says.

"This enables us to cash-flow productions, put up guarantees and assemble financial packages," Braun says, "and one of the conversations that we are having here and abroad is, 'what do you have in development and want to partner on but don't want to pay full freight on.' ... "We are always looking for partners."

Braun notes that Starz had not worked with a European partner as "first broadcaster" but says it is definitely a goal. He sees MIP as a key staging post for the company's international blueprint in terms of kick-starting its international production activities.

"We are small and nimble and don't have the layers of bureaucracy that a studio has," he says. "But on the other hand, we have the resources of a major company and can bring value to the table by bringing distribution and cash. That combination seems to give us traction."

With that calling card, you can be sure that this will be a prestigious first MIPTV for Starz.
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