Starz! Hitched Its Wagon to Films

Dec 20, 2004  •  Post A Comment

By Robert Pietranton

Special to TelevisionWeek

“Let’s all go to the movies!”-Daddy Warbucks, “Annie.”

The programming philosophy has taken Daddy Warbucks’ exhortation to heart, focusing almost exclusively on feature films, mainly those licensed for the pay cable window following theatrical exhibition.

has been the exclusive pay television home to such recent blockbusters as “The Lord of the Rings” series (“The Return of the King” premiered this month), “Finding Nemo,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Chicago” and “Bruce Almighty,” among others.

“Our success is indicative of the power of movies,” said Bob Leighton, executive VP of programming and programming operations for Starz Encore Group and president of Starz Encore Entertainment. “If you look at other cable networks, original programming gets attention, certainly, but theatrical movies tend to consistently get eyeballs. That’s the strategy we rode into town on 10 years ago, and we’re still on that same horse.”

Since 1996 the company has presented its programming on a variety of themed channels, targeting groups of viewers with selections for different tastes. In addition to the flagship, there are currently five other channels: Theater, Family, Cinema, Black and Kids.

Starz Encore Media Group recently announced a rebranding of the and Encore family of channels, due to take effect in March 2005. Kids and Family will be combined into one channel, Starz Kids & Family, making room for a new entry, Starz Comedy. Theater will be replaced with Starz Edge, specializing in genre fare aimed at the 18 to 34 crowd. The other channels will remain largely the same, though all will lose the familiar exclamation points in their names, and Black will be renamed Starz in Black.

“We’re making these changes from a position of strength, adjusting some programming lineups to meet the needs of the viewer,” Mr. Leighton said. “We take a portfolio approach in terms of our channel lineup, offering something for everyone. We’re appealing to both the red and the blue states.”

also features some original programming related to the channel’s core of movies. The “Sisters in Cinema” documentary on Black , for instance, highlighted the leading African American women directors in film.

In addition, original pictures sometimes premiere on the channel. Two of these, the Black documentary “Unstoppable! A Conversation With Gordon Parks, Melvin Van Peebles and Ossie Davis” and the world premiere motion picture “Justice,” starring Roger Guenveur Smith, will bow in February 2005.

acquires much of its programming through exclusive agreements with Hollywood studios. Its first such deal was struck with Universal Pictures, and on Feb. 1, 1994, the Al Pacino-starrer “Scent of a Woman” was the first movie to be telecast on A subsequent exclusive output deal with Disney for its distributed films (including those from Pixar, Miramax, Dimension and Touchstone) signaled the company was a major player, Mr. Leighton said.

has forged an exclusive output alliance with New Line Cinema and maintains an arrangement with Universal in which and HBO each retain exclusive rights to half of Universal’s titles annually. The channel begins an exclusive deal with Sony and its labels, including Columbia Pictures, Revolution, Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics, in 2005.

“The launch of in 1994 represented our entry into the first-run premium category, becoming directly competitive with HBO and Showtime,” Mr. Leighton said. “Everyone said we were insane and that no one would ever be writing a 10-year anniversary piece.

“It didn’t work out that way,” he said.