Starz Programming Chief: Lionsgate Sees Company as "a Content Pump"

Starz president of programming Carmi Zlotnik - H 2017
Courtesy of Starz

Carmi Zlotnik talks to 'The White Queen' showrunner Emma Frost at the Edinburgh TV festival about wanting to own more content and expanding Starz's original output.

Lionsgate-owned premium TV firm Starz has been focusing on owning more of its original content since the studio acquired it and is planning to further expand its slate of original programming in the coming years, president of programming Carmi Zlotnik told the Edinburgh TV Festival on Thursday.

"There is even more of an emphasis on ownership" even though the company will continue to do co-productions, he said. "That is going to be a continuing push. We want to have distribution rights. We want to have control of as many shows as possible." After all, "one of the things that Lionsgate looks for Starz to do is be a content pump into their distribution business," Zlotnik explained.

"We want to own content. The basic idea behind the content businesses is to produce something once and to sell it many times," he told THR after the session. "Lionsgate is really helpful because they have a bigger, stronger sales organization than Starz had by itself, and we look for that organization to be able to net down the effective cost of our programming. The more they can do that, the more we can afford to put on the air."

He didn't cite any targets for the number of shows or hours of original content but in his session reiterated the goal of growing Starz's output. "We are looking to expand our slate considerably in the next couple of years," Zlotnik said in his appearance, highlighting that Starz now has 10 shows.

"The opportunities are great," he said when asked about the overall impact of the Lionsgate deal.

Zlotnik was joined on stage by British showrunner Emma Frost (The White Princess, The White Queen). The two discussed how Starz has worked with U.K. talent and producers to create premium original programming for U.S. audiences, Frost's experience with the company and Starz's future plans.

Starz, the second most widely subscribed premium pay TV network in the U.S., has been targeting underserved U.S. audiences, including women, African Americans and now Hispanics. That strategy had its origin in the success of The White Queen, which saw a strong reaction from female audiences, the executive said.

Thanks to Starz's "responsive management" and small top executive team, Zlotnik said the company could react to that quickly and look for other underserved audiences. "We're not an aircraft carrier; we're a speedboat," he said about the company's ability to react to opportunities.

He repeated past comments that Starz also sees an opportunity in doing programming for the underserved LGBTQ and Middle America audiences.

The White Queen, The White Princess, Outlander, as well as Ash vs. Evil Dead have been Starz originals based on known intellectual property. Zlotnik said that has been a focus for Starz, "but at the same time, we're completely open to new IP." For example, he highlighted that hit show Power was started without known IP.

Asked if Starz had any plans to launch a channel in the U.K., Zlotnik said there were "no specific plans right now," but he mentioned the company's relationship with international cable operator Liberty Global and said that eventually, once Starz has a bigger programming library, "I think international is the next step."