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Now its Starz network on Wednesday told Comcast Xfinity customers that they will lose access to new episodes of hit shows like Power, Outlander and Vida. The pending loss of popular TV shows comes as both sides issue competing statements blaming the other for dropped channels amid an escalating carriage dispute.
Comcast on Tuesday told Xfinity subscribers on its website that it will remove 17 Starz channels from its TV packages from Dec. 10, while adding the rival Epix service to its premium offerings. A day later, Starz replied with its own statement that warned its popular TV shows had no worthy replacements for fans when dropped by Comcast.
“Starz has been working diligently to reach a fair market distribution agreement with Comcast Xfinity in order to continue providing our shared customers with access to our acclaimed lineup of premium television content. However, months before our contract deadline and in spite of our best efforts to engage in meaningful discussions, Comcast has publicly stated their intention to drop our networks from all packages and bundles, ignoring industry precedent and demonstrating a total disregard for its customers, communities, suppliers and other stakeholders,” Starz said.
Network execs are hoping customers turn against Comcast for swapping out Starz for Epix programming and not reducing their monthly subscription price for what Starz regards as inferior TV product. That’s a bargaining position Epix execs counter as they tout their expanded deal with Comcast that brings library series like Belgravia, Pennyworth and Get Shorty to its subscribers, starting on Dec. 10.
“Comcast is one of our most valued partners. We look forward to building upon our relationship by making Epix available to millions of new customers and finding new ways to create value for Comcast,” Monty Sarhan, executive vp and general manager of MGM-owned Epix, said in his own statement.
Epix, which got into the scripted game later than Starz, under Sarhan has touted itself as a lower cost and distributor-friendly alternative for premium TV packages offered by traditional TV players challenged by cord-cutting and rising original content costs.
Being sold by Comcast as part of its premium TV packages is Epix’s latest expansion in distribution and follows a move to be more competitive in the streaming space with Epix Now. The network behind the scenes is touting its slate of new original series — including Pennyworth, Godfather of Harlem, Our Lady, LTD and Elvis Goes There with Elvis Mitchell — as well as blockbuster movies and returning seasons of Get Shorty, Berlin Station and Deep State as just as impressive, if not better than Starz’s own film and TV fare.
Epix execs, who had been talking to Comcast for over a year about expanding their carriage deal into premium packages, insist the distribution giant did its homework before swapping out the Power network from its premium TV packages, and didn’t just act to reduce programming costs.
Channel blackouts during carriage disputes have become common as traditional cable and satellite TV providers deal with changing viewer habits in a fast-changing digital landscape. The prospect of Starz being replaced in Comcast’s premium TV package also has implications as Lionsgate eyes as the possible strategic option spinning off the premium cable channel into a separate public company as it expands into the streaming space.
Shares of Lionsgate already plunged in late August amid rumors that Comcast will not renew a pact that makes Starz and Starz Encore available to its cable TV subscribers as part of its main lineup. And Lionsgate vice chairman Michael Burns last month told an investors conference that the upcoming carriage renewal talks with Comcast for its Starz and Starz Encore services could produce a heated battle.
“Could it get nasty? Sure. I’m not sure anyone benefits from that, but sometimes it’s necessary,” Burns told Wall Street analysts. As the current carriage deal between Comcast and Starz gets set to expire at the end of the year, Comcast on its website said it was weighing the costs of offering Starz channels amid renewal talks.
“We regularly review our programming and sometimes make changes to ensure we’re offering a wide variety of programming at the best value. We look at a variety of factors, including customer viewership and programming costs when making these decisions,” Comcast told its customers.
For its part, Starz warned Xfinity subscribers they are set to lose access to popular TV shows they value as fans. “Starz subscribers recognize the value of our programming, which elevates and captures diverse voices in storytelling that appeals to women, African American, Latinx and other underserved audiences,” the premium channel said.
Starz added it will aim to reach a new deal with Comcast “that is fair, reasonable and ensures our shared customers’ continued access to a lineup of premium television content that speaks to them.”
As Starz faces the prospect of losing Comcast and its 21.6 million TV subscribers, Lionsgate earlier announced a multiyear agreement with AT&T, which will make the Starz and Starz Encore premium linear and HD channels and on-demand content available to subscribers of DirecTV, AT&T TV and U-verse, all of which are owned by the telecom giant.
Oct. 16 11:00 a.m. Updated with a statement from Epix executive vp and general manager Monty Sarhan.
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