Starz CEO Talks HBO Now, Lionsgate Relationship, Time Warner Cable Sub Upside

Chris Albrecht - H 2015
AP Images/Invision

Chris Albrecht - H 2015

For Starz and Lionsgate, "it is time to think about what's next," Chris Albrecht tells a Florida investor conference, but leaves all options open.

Starz could see subscriber upside from Comcast's planned acquisition of Time Warner Cable, CEO Chris Albrecht told an investor conference Tuesday, at which he also discussed the new HBO Now service and Starz's relationship with Lionsgate.

Speaking at the Deutsche Bank 2015 Media, Internet and Telecom Conference in Florida in a session that was webcast, he was asked about HBO's new partnership with Apple for HBO Now. "The way they are going about it is smart," he said about his former employer HBO. Saying that "few people are as smart as [Time Warner CEO] Jeff Bewkes," he argued that the CEO wouldn’t let HBO do anything he hasn’t thought through.

Albrecht said that HBO Now should highlight the value of the HBO brand and premium services in general, adding that all things that will help HBO's business from the service should also be positive for Starz. He added about HBO's executive team that Starz doesn’t "mind them being successful trailblazers."

Albrecht also got questions on his company's plans for possible new offers outside the pay TV bundle. Starz’s first goal is to get Starz distributed in partnership with existing pay TV partners, Albrecht said, adding that the premium service is not where HBO is in terms of library size and brand yet.

With big Starz shareholder John Malone recently swapping some of his Starz stock for a stake in Lionsgate, Albrecht again faced questions about the companies' future relationship.

Lionsgate is "at a point, like Starz, where it is time to think about what’s next," Albrecht said, adding the two would have "a lot of potential conversations" beyond partnering on shows like in the past. 

Could it make sense to merge the two in the future? "It certainly remains to be seen," the Starz CEO said, adding the two would talk more about joint opportunities and get to know each other better in the future. "There have to be really good reasons" for outright combinations, he said. The talks about joint initiatives "will cast some light on what the relationship can or should be," he said.

Albrecht previously also left the future open, saying: "It is certainly possible that combining our efforts will achieve a better result than what we can do separately. It's hard to predict the way things go."

Discussing upsides from the Comcast deal, he said Starz is "lowly penetrated" in terms of subscribers in New York and L.A. where TW Cable has a strong presence, while Comcast has much bigger penetration. That means there is "upside for us," Albrecht said.

Addressing the two big pay TV mergers that regulators are reviewing right now, Comcast-TW Cable and AT&T-DirecTV, Albrecht said: "How those turn out will affect a lot how the rest of the year plays out" in terms of subscriber growth at Starz. "I think they both will [be approved]," he added.

Albrecht said he has known Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer for half his life and likes vice chairman Michael Burns.

Asked about 2014 successes in original programming, the Starz CEO said he felt it was gratifying that the audience for Power doubled from its first to its last episode. He also mentioned that Fox's Empire seems to target a similar demographic, albeit in a bigger universe, with its focus on music, family and power. Albrecht predicted that Power would come back even stronger this year.

Twitter: @georgszalai