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STARZ Boss on Sony Movies: ‘We Didn’t Think the Value Was There’

Ben Bowman

Netflix made a huge splash last month when it outbid its competition to land Sony’s upcoming slate of films. The deal was seen as a blow to STARZ, the studio’s old streaming partner. But STARZ made a deliberate decision not to duke it out.

STARZ President and CEO Jeff Hirsch says his service finds its primary audience among women, and its shows like “Outlander” and “Power” cater to that audience. The programming strategy is to double down on content for those loyal viewers because STARZ is focused more on retention than acquisition.

As Hirsch explained at MoffettNathanson’s Media & Communications Summit, the big new titles often draw in a large audience, but since STARZ offers a free trial, many users might sign up, watch the film, and then vanish.

STARZ sees greater value from older movies that still flow into the service. Titles like Disney’s “Frozen” and “Inside Out” are available on STARZ, which provide a nice perk for subscribers, but they’ve been out of theaters so long, it’s unlikely someone would sign up for a free trial just for those types of films.

Hirsch looked at the viewing data for the Sony films on STARZ and it helped make the decision easy. “Fifty percent of the movies that were coming from Sony (that we were paying for) did under $10 million at the box office. And if you look at our top 10 movies over the last 12 months, if you take ‘Spider-Man,’ ‘Venom,’ and ‘Jumanji’ out, none of the other movies that we got during the year were in the top 10.” STARZ parent company Lionsgate supplies its library to the platform and Hirsch said those films were “more impactful” to their core audience.

STARZ is attempting to position itself as a home for edgy, adult content, while many other streaming services are stuck trying to appeal to families. Hirsch says they have no plans to stray from that strategy, perhaps wisely letting Disney+, HBO Max, and Netflix duke it out on that front.

Hirsch says he expects STARZ will have 60 million global subscribers by 2025.

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