Pacts with Sony, Disney help fill 16 channels

For a pay TV network such as Starz, negotiating movie output deals requires a fair amount of foresight.

“You’re buying stuff that, in many cases, hasn’t even been thought of yet,” says Stephan Shelanski, exec VP of programming. “When you do an output deal, you’re betting on the studio. You’re saying, ‘I want all the films that this studio releases over the next however many years.’”

For its part, Starz has exclusive output deals locked up with Disney and Sony Pictures that will give it the first pay TV rights to theatrical pics from those studios through the first term of the Obama administration. Separately, it has non-exclusive deals for library titles from every major studio.

While Starz has invested in developing and producing some original series of late, the presentation of feature films will remain the programming mainstay across its 16 channels, Shelanski says.

“Original programming is an important complement,” he notes, “but not one that will replace movies. That’s why we’re heavily invested in movies for the long term.”

Starz isn’t alone. Competition for movie fans within the premium cable biz is heating up, with Lionsgate, Paramount and MGM teaming to launch premium cable channel Epix later this year. Contender will be added to a field that includes HBO, which has output deals with Fox, Warner Bros., Universal and DreamWorks, and Showtime, which has pacts with the Weinstein Co. and Summit Entertainment.

Given Sony’s broad, diverse selection of genre labels and Disney’s strength in family films, Starz seems well-

positioned — particularly so when considering that it will gain exclusive premium TV access to DreamWorks titles once Disney takes over the studio’s U.S. distribution.

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