Starz Shuffles Encore Channels Lineup to Target Key Demos

David Baldwin, executive vp of program planning at Starz

The premium TV group wants to "super-serve" African-Americans with new channel "Encore Black," Hispanics, horror fans and baby boomers with "Encore Classic" and shows like "Murphy Brown."

Premium TV company Starz is shuffling the lineup of its eight Encore channels and adding new programming to "super-serve" key demographic groups that over-index in the premium space, including African-Americans, Hispanics and baby boomers.

Starz said the changes, which take effect Dec. 2, will further strengthen Encore, which launched in April 1991 and which the company likes to point out is the most widely subscribed U.S. premium pay TV service with a near-record 35 million subscribers as of Sept. 30.

In one major change, "Encore Black" will replace the "Encore Drama" channel. The rebranded network promises to showcase popular programming for the African-American community, including movies, comedy, such as Martin Lawrence’s 1st Amendment Stand Up, and such TV shows as What’s Happening!!, Diff’rent Strokes, as well as 227 and Amen.

African-Americans have historically over-indexed in terms of premium channel viewership, according to the company.

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For the December launch of Encore Black, the network will feature a spotlight on Samuel L. Jackson with such films as Unbreakable, Losing Isaiah and Freedomland.

In another channel change, "Encore Love" will become "Encore Classic" with a focus on boomers. The repositioned channel promises "a mix of evergreen movies and classic TV series, such as Murphy Brown, Magnum, P.I. and Night Court. Classic movies will air at 9 p.m. every day. The film lineup will include Kramer vs. Kramer, American Graffiti, Independence Day, Stand By Me, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Good Will Hunting, Tootsie, Basic Instinct and The Notebook.

The network said the new Classic network fits Encore's "Playing Favorites" tagline particularly well.

Meanwhile, the "Encore Suspense" network will get a new daily 9 p.m. horror block dubbed “The Graveyard Shift.” It will air until approximately 5 a.m. Starz, which earlier this year became a separate company with a stock market listing after a spin-off from John Malone's Liberty Media, will use movies from its own Anchor Bay Entertainment arm for the horror block along with other studios' films.

Horror titles set to air in December include Night of the Living Dead, The Fly, Silent Night, The Amityville Horror, The Dead Zone and Resident Evil: Retribution.

Encore is also looking to expand its Hispanic following by moving "Encore Espanol" to a lower pay TV tier. "For the growing Latino audiences who want 24/7 Spanish-language premium content, Encore Espanol will now be made available to multichannel video distributors in the United States to be part of their popular, lower-cost Spanish-language channel bundles," the firm said.

After the changes, Encore's eight premium channels will be Encore, Encore Action, Encore Classic, Encore Westerns, Encore Suspense, Encore Black, Encore Family and Encore Espanol. Encore Westerns is the firm's most-viewed thematic channel, followed by Action.

“The new and improved Encore family of channels and services are aligned to super-serve its many constituent demographic groups,” said David Baldwin, executive vp of program planning for Starz. “Growth in Latino and boomer populations and continued over-indexing in TV usage by African-American audiences created marketplace opportunities for us to add incremental consumer value to the Encore services. Along with the new nightly horror block, these enhancements will benefit Encore subscribers for years ahead."

He added: "Encore truly is "playing favorites" with these improvements to the channels and the Encore On Demand and Encore Play services,” the latter of which is the firm's authenticated online offering.

"We knew that we had a great product," Baldwin told The Hollywood Reporter about the modifications. "But we didn't want to rest on our laurels. Usually, premium TV providers start with their inventory and have that dictate what the thematic channels should be. We went the other way and started thinking about the most important demos we can serve even better."

And he added: "If you keep things the same, [services] get old. The premium services have been in the same basic configurations for a long time."

He said the company would also ensure to continue serving the Encore Drama and Love audiences by folding up content for those channels into the flagship network and other Encore services. "We don't worry that we'll lose the female audiences that are the dominant audiences of Love and Drama," Baldwin said.

Encore Suspense has drawn a good amount of viewership, "but we hope to build that further with the horror block," he explained. "Horror is very strong and persistent genre favorite in America. The block is an attempt to increase the usage on that channel."

Baldwin also told THR that to get some of the popular 1980s shows added to Encore, the firm struck deals with the likes of Sony, Universal and Warner Bros. "The shows were available or became available" as the company was looking for content, he said. "And we were very happy to get Murphy Brown, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary in December this year as Encore Classic launches. We like Magnum PI and those shows because they just take our audiences back to a different time in their lives."

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Encore households spend an average 17.3 hours per month watching Encore channels, according to Starz. The Encore viewer base is more mature than that of Starz, because of its programming focus and somewhat lower price.

Starz is led by CEO Chris Albrecht. As of Sept. 30, 2013, the company had 57 million overall subscriptions. In the third quarter, Starz subscriptions increased by about 1 percent, for the first time hitting the 22 million subscriber milestone, while subscriptions for the Encore services stood at 35 million.

The Dec. 2 rollout of the new brands and offers will be supported by new channel logos, graphics and audio packages. With Encore not having as big a marketing budget as Starz's original series, which has been a key focus for management, much marketing of the changes at Encore will be done with distribution partners.

Twitter: @georgszalai