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

Chris Albrect Tune in TV Summit
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

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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  1. Connie Dobbins says:

    Thank you Mr. Albrecht for bringing Outlander to the screen A pre-sold fanbase is an understatement to the actual number of people who have waited for this series. However, your statement concerning Power bothers me. You want to see the show to get better and the audience to get bigger, but Outlander is having the same problem. Fans want the series to continue, but MANY recognize the show is not getting better. The first half of season 1 did much better in the ratings – – – because they remained true to the book. Readers of the books have often been criticized for wanting word for word dialogue, but that is simply not true. We do want the show to remain true to the characters personality – – – and that is most definitely not happening. Ron Moore hired writers who had NEVER read the books, in order to have a different vision of the story. This makes no sense. What the viewer got, was a disjointed storyline, that oftentimes contradicted each other. The largest Outlander fanbase Administrator has stated the show is no longer an adaptation but a new story altogether. She calls it the Franklander, due to the huge % of the show involves his character. She is unhappy with the changes, but is supportive of the new story, just so the show will continue, Sorry, but myself and many others are very unhappy with the new show and will not support it in order to have it continue. If the reason for the show’s success is not recognized, then the ratings will fall even lower. What is the reason for its continued success? Sam Heughan aka Jamie Fraser. He is the reason why the largest % of female viewers watch the show. Because the story of Jamie and Claire IS THE STORY. You want to reach male viewers also. don’t you? Well, not letting Jamie’s character be the warrior he is in the book, is not the way to go. Having the show turn into the Frank and Claire story is certainly not going to bring in more male viewers, and absolutely not more female viewers. You may not even read this or have anyone read it on your staff, but in case you do, realize this – – – I am but one of thousands who want Outlander to continue, but if changes are not made, then you will know why it failed.

  2. Angeleno says:

    When I heard that Chris Albrecht was going to be CEO of Starz, I promptly subscribed. HBO was never better than when he was running it. And I have not been disappointed. I love the series Starz is running, particularly The Missing, Black Sails and Outlander (also the sadly canceled Magic City), and I’m looking forward to Flesh and Bone, as well as Blunt Talk.

    For the ones of us who subscribe to premium channels for the movies they show, as well as the series, Starz does a better job of programming movies than any other premium channel. HBO does a mediocre job (WAY too much repetition), with a few ‘big’ movies thrown in, and the less said about Showtime’s movie programming the better, but Starz does a much better job. I particularly appreciate the Starz Cinema channel. So keep it up, Mr. Albrecht, and please don’t let any of these bozos who think they know better than you come in and ruin it!

  3. Thank you, Chris Albrecht, for bringing such a high quality production as Outlander to the viewing public. With its first season we have witnessed an unprecedented attention to excellence in production, writing, directing, casting, set design and acting.

    Here’s hoping Starz does well at the Emmys.

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