What will happen to Outlander?
At the moment the industry is nervously discussing the migration of traditional TV channels to direct-to-consumer streaming options. The current situation with Starz dispute with Altice USA shows us the limits that are present of a standalone streaming option as a replacement for old-fashioned MVDP distribution.
The 17 Starz-Encore channels all went dark on Altice USA systems as of January first as the two sides did manage to come to terms with a new contract agreement. Alice has made clear that their reasoning for negotiating for higher carriage fees is the fact that Starz has a standalone streaming option.
— Outlander (@Outlander_STARZ) January 12, 2018
Alice made the point that if the consumers wanted the Starz content, they could easily access it with the help of the standalone app. Starz is already a premium service that requires a monthly subscription for beyond basic MVDP service.
Starz CEO Chris Albrecht has acknowledged to reporters on Friday that steering the customers towards the streaming app is not the solution for the lost distribution in big markets like Long Island and Connecticut. Altice USA currently has about 4.9 million subscribers in 21 states.
Starz also wants the stability of contractual carriage fee commitments rather than the less-predictable income from standalone subscribers.
“It’s not that binary right now,” Albrecht said Friday during Starz’s portion of the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, Calif. Subscribers to the OTT service need a good broadband connection and most likely a means of directing the online stream to a TV set.
“There certainly are people who are not as savvy as being able to go and get another box to connect to their television so they can watch their Starz subscription,” Albrecht said. “One of the strengths of the MVPD bundle is that it’s still serving people that want (traditional TV viewing).”
Albrecht criticized Altice’s failure to offer rebates to customers who have already paid their monthly fee for Starz. He also said that the company had been under pressure from the weight of its acquisition of the former Cablevision systems in 2016.
“This is a company that’s been beaten up,” he said. “They paid a lot of money for the systems they bought. They’ve been having a lot of difficult programming discussions. I’m sure the (Altice) board isn’t happy with the management.”
All that said, Albrecht predicted the sides will eventually come to a deal, even if communications between the companies are mostly through the media right now.
“This thing is far from over,” he said. “These negotiations are always difficult. Both sides are financially incentivized to make things work. It’s becoming increasingly a case of MVPDs wanting to pay less but still be able to charge their customers more. Obviously, that doesn’t work for us.”
In a statement, Altice responded: “We are disappointed and surprised that Starz continues to engage in unproductive public spin to mislead consumers after they spent the last few months insisting on terms that would force hundreds of thousands of customers to pay for programming that they don’t watch. Despite numerous attempts by Altice USA to reach a deal, Starz refused all offers, including many offers to extend our current arrangement.”
Albrecht also addressed the success that Starz shows have made with audiences from different cultures with shows like “Power”, which he ranks in the top-rated pay TV series in African-American homes. He said that Starz is carried in 43% of African-American homes that have some form of multichannel service. Albrecht predicted that Altice is due to face pressure from the subscribers in the New York area that are missing out on their favorite shows. “Power” won’t be back with new episodes until later this year.
“If ‘Power’ was on Sunday we’d be in a different situation,” he said.
Albrecht was pressed about the making of the second season of its elaborate fantasy series “American Gods”. As both showrunners, Bryan Fuller and Michael Green have left the project- with the reason being that they had a clash with producer FremantleMedia North America on the budget needed to deliver a Season 2. Fuller and Green “were not fired, nor did they quit,” Albrecht said.
— MTV (@MTV) January 9, 2018
“Brian and Michael will be involved as much as they can be. It’s a little bit up in the air what their exact role will be,” he said. Neil Gaiman, the author of the novel of the same name, is taking on more of the “traditional showrunner role” although he will be paired with a seasoned TV producer.
“It’s a big show, it’s a monster show. It’s faced many of the challenges that terrific, complex premium shows face in trying to get successive seasons, especially when art comes before commerce,” Albrecht said.
Fantasy drama “Outlander” had the most watched season last year with its third installment, and with a fourth one on the way, its one of the most popular shows at the moment. There has been no news whether there will be a Season 5 renewal but Albrecht said that we should not worry and that the show is bound to return.
“I wouldn’t worry too much about that — there are 10 books and the show’s doing well,” he said. Starz and producer Sony Pictures TV “are having very productive discussions about the future of the show.”