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Starz CEO Chris Albrecht is taking a page out of his old HBO playbook.
The former HBO chairman and CEO tells THR he’s moving Starz’s entire original programming slate from Saturday to Sunday nights, where fare like Outlander will go head-to-head with fellow premium cablers HBO and Showtime, among others.
The migration begins July 17 with the season three premiere of Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson’s Power, Starz’s highest-rated original series, and the third run of Survivor’s Remorse bowing a week later. “We see opportunity,” says Albrecht. “Saturdays have worked so well that we feel our shows are going to be able to stand up on the most watched night of the week.”
The risk of facing such juggernauts as HBO’s Game of Thrones and AMC’s The Walking Dead is worth being part of the Sunday night conversation, adds Albrecht. Overall, Starz originals are strong DVR performers, growing 214 percent during the course of a week, according to the network, but they often are left out of the Monday morning watercooler conversation (and the attendant online coverage). Albrecht sees value in that watercooler conversation in the era of social media, which can help draw new audiences. (Just ask Oprah how she discovered ABC’s Scandal.) Starz’s shift also is motivated by a desire to be included in the awards conversation (53 percent of the 2015 Emmy nominations were for series that premiered on Sunday nights).
“Sundays are a prestige night and we feel our shows are definitely going to be very competitive, not just in viewership but in the attention-getting business on Sundays,” Albrecht says, crediting exec vp program planning David Baldwin, who engineered HBO’s move to Sundays under Albrecht. “So it made sense to move.”
As the network continues its push into year-round programming with ambitious series including American Gods and Alejandro G. Inarritu’s The One Percent, Saturdays will be reserved for movie premieres (another HBO strategy). And Albrecht isn’t in a rush to expand to two nights of originals: “We’ll more than likely try to play with the platforms like we did with The Girlfriend Experience and Da Vinci’s Demons, where we dropped all the episodes at once on-demand and on our authenticated OTT platforms — so even if they are premiering on the same week or the same night, they are not necessarily the same experience.”
A version of this story first appeared in the June 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.