Business has been good since , president and CEO of Starz Entertainment Group, joined the company in September 2003.
After two weeks on board he helped settle a lawsuit with his former employer Comcast, which had relegated Starz! to promotional no-man’s land with the country’s largest operator. Following that resolution, Starz! reached new long-term affiliation agreements with Comcast and six more of the top nine cable companies-Cox, Adelphia, Charter, Insight, Mediacom and Cable One.
Starz also launched sizable marketing campaigns last year with Comcast, Time Warner, DirecTV and other distributors for the first time in several years. Those deals provided the needed fuel to turn around the company’s 2003 performance, when revenue and subscriber numbers were flat or down. In the second and third quarter of 2004, the company added 1.3 million new customers, bringing its total to 13.7 million.
Mr. Clasen, who began at Starz as a part-time employee-albeit as president of sales and marketing-and rose quickly to become president and CEO late last year, previously served as a top executive at several multiple system operators, including Comcast, where he was president. He believes his previous work on the operator side was instrumental in resolving the Comcast litigation and in shepherding the new marketing relationships with other operators.
As part of the new marketing push, Starz developed a broad online training program for Comcast’s customer service representatives. “We went to call centers and said, `What are your issues? How can we help you?’ We didn’t just hand out hats and T-shirts,” he said.
While fellow pay TV networks HBO and Showtime generate gobs of attention for their original programming, Starz! is programmed with television runs of theatrical movies. It’s Mr. Clasen’s acute understanding of how cable operates-rather than splashy originals on the network-that attracts notice in the business. His knowledge is key in helping build relationships, said Dave Watson, executive VP operations for Comcast Cable. “Bob is a great asset to our industry,” he said.
Starz! is proving that the public appetite for movies is voracious. Nielsen numbers for the channel showed an 18 percent increase in household ratings for 2004 through November compared with the previous year, placing Starz! at No. 11 in prime-time ratings among 74 basic and pay networks for that time frame. The channel also ranked No. 11 in its total day numbers after attracting 14 percent more viewers than in 2003.
Upcoming plans at Starz include the introduction of a new channel lineup and a streamlined new look in March. The company is also launching initiatives to grow its SVOD service and Starz! Ticket, its online on-demand service. That includes fine-tuning some of the billing challenges for Starz! Ticket and becoming something of an evangelist for the convergence of the TV and the personal computer.
Mr. Clasen will also have to contend with rising programming costs. “I’ve never been accused of not having a lot of balls in the air,” he said.