Chris Albrecht Talks Starz’s Growth, John Malone’s Ambitions

Starz CEO Chris Albrecht kicked off his keynote at Variety‘s TV Summit 2015 with some exciting news: The second season premiere episode of “Power” on June 6 ranked as the best performing original episode of any show for the premium pay cabler of all time.

That considerable upward momentum for Starz was the basis of Albrecht’s discussion with Variety‘s Cynthia Littleton at the Tuesday event, held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.

“She knows how to run a show. That’s a very definite skill set,” Albrecht said of showrunner Courtney Kemp Agboh, who’s leading “Power” — one of the network’s most promising series.

However, Albrecht admitted his early days at Starz, after his time as chairman and CEO at HBO, were much more difficult than today. “I thought it was going to be a little easier than I thought it was going to be,” he recalled. “We weren’t even in market in L.A. and New York. People weren’t even aware of the brand…The business side of what I had to deal with was a lot more urgent than what I realized. The programming side was a lot more challenging.”

Albrecht brought up former series like “Spartacus” — which he said was a solid show, but “didn’t do anything for the brand” — and “Magic City” and Kelsey Grammer’s “Boss,” which were “good shows” but “skewed older.” Alluding again to “Power,” he added, “Shows need to get better, and the audiences should not get smaller because these things cost a lot of money.”

Looking to the future, Albrecht and his team see great opportunity in continued diversification and are seeking a series that will draw in the Hispanic community.

He also sees promise in properties with pre-sold fanbases like “Ash vs. Evil Dead,” which is bringing back original star Bruce Campbell, who has his own following, along with the franchise’s popularity. Another successful example is the cabler’s hit “Outlander,” which brought in rabid fans of the novel.

“We’re at the doorstep of being able to put forward some really differentiated stuff,” he said, adding that the key is putting shows on premium that you cannot find anywhere else. Referencing competition from HBO and Netflix, he said, “We don’t chase everything.”

When asked by Littleton about media mogul John Malone’s vision for Starz’s future, Albrecht demurred on specifics but made it clear that there is a content strategy afoot. Malone personally owns a sizable stake in Starz, and through his Liberty Broadband unit played a big role in steering the pending merger of Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable.

“John sees the value of content, and as a consummate visionary, he sees what he thinks should be some movement in that area,” Albrecht said, noting that there are a clutch of cable content companies that are sure to be affected by the consolidation among MVPDs. “John’s question is, a consolidator should emerge, but who is that consolidator and is he thinking he could point some people in a direction that could be smart? That wouldn’t be unlike him.

“There will be a tipping point at some point — it’s not like a tipping point you see in ‘San Andreas,'” he joked. “It’s going to be gradual and I think we’re at the beginning.”

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