Black Starz! targets avid film fans

Oct 22, 2001  •  Post A Comment

As the largest provider of cable- and satellite-delivered premium movie channels, Starz Encore Group is well-versed in delivering quality content to a targeted audience: Its Starz Super Pak offers 14 themed channels with programming for all ages and interests. One of those channels, Black Starz!, is the first and only movie channel geared toward African Americans.
“We have a very strong African American contingency among our subscriber base,” said Stephan Shelanski, senior VP of acquisitions, planning and scheduling for Starz Encore Entertainment, “not only in the number of subscribers but also in their appetite for watching movies on television. They are very avid and very loyal movie fans. To dedicate an entire channel for programming for the African American community is an easy decision to make.”
Starz Encore launched Black Starz! in 1997 as BET Movies. The company renamed it in February to, as Mr. Shelanski said, “eliminate a lot of confusion in the marketplace” following Starz Encore Group’s acquisition of BET Holdings’ interest in the joint venture that created the channel.
Jack Jackson, VP of multicultural marketing for Starz Encore, said research dating back to the time of the launch indicates that African Americans watch 138 percent more pay cable television than nonblack households. African Americans also account for 25 percent of all premium cable subscriptions and spend $3 billion on cable television each year.
“Our business is delivering great movies to an audience,” Mr. Jackson said. “It became clear that the African American segment of the market was one you could reach very efficiently and very effectively. We have product, content and availability that deliver the unique message that wasn’t being delivered by anyone else around.”
Mr. Shelanski said Black Starz! programming is a mix of classic African American movies, recent Hollywood blockbusters and little-known independent films from the United States and African communities around the world.
“When we launched the channel, we made a goal that not only would this channel have the big Hollywood hits but it would also play the independent films and support the African American creative community,” he said. “We’re licensing films for air that really don’t have a home otherwise on television. And to be honest, some of these films may not get much exposure anywhere else. So we’re bringing these films to light [and bringing] very relevant social films to the black community.”
Mr. Shelanski said Black Starz! is also “slowly but surely” getting involved in original programming. Its most recent project was “A Huey P. Newton Story,” which premiered earlier this year. “Newton,” directed by Spike Lee, is an intimate portrait of one of the co-founders of the Black Panther Party.
“We are doing projects that support up-and-coming young black filmmakers and black talent,” he said. “We’re not going to shy away from things that are potentially inflammatory or controversial or things that are not standard television. … We’re open to experimenting with the channel. We’re trying to do a lot of different things.”
In addition to offering free preview weekends in October and March, Mr. Jackson said Black Starz! is promoted by highlighting the channel’s The Heritage platform. The Heritage includes programming that focuses on topics that are important to the African American community, such as Black History Month or Black Music Month.
But it was more than Black Starz! content that broadened its consumer base. Mr. Jackson said technology also played a part.
“When we rolled out the channel, one of the limitations was bandwidth,” he said. “There just wasn’t sufficient bandwidth on an analog platform to accommodate this new channel. So as systems accelerated their digital deployment, the opportunity to enjoy Black Starz! and our Starz Super Pak just exploded.”
And despite national tragedies and a soft economy hanging over consumers’ heads, Mr. Jackson said he’s confident the channel will continue to succeed.
“In difficult times, consumers make decisions based on what makes them feel good,” he said. “We offer family-friendly programming that allows them to do just that.”