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Starz CEO Hirsch Says They are Now a “True Global Streaming Company”

Stephen Beale

It’s time to stop thinking of Starz as a cable network. That was a key message from Starz President & CEO Jeffrey Hirsch during a webcast held as part of the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Virtual Conference. “The business has really transitioned to what I like to call a true global streaming company, that really looks more like a Netflix and Disney+ than anything else,” he said.

Within the next two quarters, he expects the number of global Starz over-the-top (OTT) subscribers to exceed linear (cable and satellite) subscribers. And “in the next year, we’ll have more revenue from the OTT business than we do from the linear business,” he said. As of June 30, parent company Lionsgate Entertainment reported that Starz had 11.4 million paid streaming subscribers globally and 7.4 million in the U.S.

The numbers reflect that “our content is working,” Hirsch said, pointing to series like “Outlander,” “Hightown,” “P-Valley,” and “Ghost.”

One thing that won’t change, Hirsch said, is Starz’s focus on programming that caters to women and to Black audiences. “We’ve always been that premium add on service,” he said, providing “content that is adult in nature, non ad-supported deep storylines, authentic in terms of letting our creators take the story to places that you can’t when you’re an advertising-based business. And we’d like to say it’s content that people are really willing to pay for.”

He noted that 11 of the company’s 16 showrunners are women, and “of those 11, five are women of color,” he said. “We feel like it’s the DNA of the company, and that what we put on the screen and behind the screen, and how we manage the network, is really focused on that.”

Hirsch also described Starz as a “data-driven” company that uses information about its viewership to influence decisions about storylines, scheduling, and marketing.

He addressed the challenge posed by production shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Starz typically shoots a year in advance, so when the pandemic hit, “most of our slate was already in post-production in some form,” said Hirsch. Three series are currently in production: Season 3 of “The Girlfriend Experience” in the UK, Season 2 of “Power Book II: Ghost” in New York, and “Heels,” a new drama that recently began shooting in Atlanta. It tells the story of pro wrestling promoters in a small town in Georgia.

“October will bring two more online, and then November will bring a couple more,” he said, adding that he hopes to be “full steam ahead” by early January.

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