Cable Operators

Starz Adds an Early Bird Special

4/03/2005 8:00 PM Eastern

Starz Entertainment Group debuted its next-generation on-demand platform April 1. The new platform includes a new blue-screen-based navigation guide, an early premiere section and two-minute branded introductions to subscription VOD movies.

“The name of the game early on was simply putting programming on the servers,” said Robert Clasen, president and CEO of Starz. “And while some believe that tonnage is the answer, whatever amount of programming is offered on demand, distributors will need to promote and guide consumers to an entirely different and improved entertainment experience.”

The Starz initiative is multidimensional, addressing issues related to education, original programming and navigation. The company is drawing on its several years experience with SVOD, where it found viewing habits and television usage is a far different experience from the linear realm.

Educating consumers about what’s available is a key aspect of the initiative, reflected in the new navigation system. Another is the addition of unique content and features, including tongue-in-cheek animated fare and SVOD movie premieres two weeks prior to linear release.

The new navigation system includes eight categories: All Movies, Early Premieres, Only Here, Coming Soon, Top Hits, Monthly Specials, Movie Collections, Hollywood Extras — several of which are new for Starz.

With Early Premieres, Starz will premiere movies on SVOD, on average, 15 days before they appear on the linear channel. The Alamo premiered on SVOD April 1, but won’t be seen on the linear channel until April 30. White Chicks and Elf premiere on SVOD May 1, before their respective May 14 and May 21 linear debuts. Hero has May 21 and June 4 premiere dates and The Bourne Supremacy May 30 and June 11. The linear premiere dates tend to fall on Saturdays, part of Starz’s Saturday-night-movie promotion.

The scheduling tactic is aimed at driving more users to the on-demand category, said Jerry Maglio, executive vice president of marketing. “This will give people more reasons to think Starz On Demand first,” he said. And for Starz, all usage is good, whether it’s the on-demand platform or linear network, because higher usage rates on SVOD lowers overall churn.

The network will promote the early premieres through its on-air interstitials and on its new guide.

The Only Here category will feature value-added content not immediately available on the linear channel, perhaps campy movie titles or short features.

Monthly Specials will follow the format of the successful Halloween stunt Starz had last October. The network packaged one new Halloween-related title with six older films. Those seven films generated 25% of Starz’s total usage for that month, Maglio said.

Movie Collections will be patterned after the December James Bond promotion, where Starz carried 17 Bond films on the SVOD service.

The guide launched April 1, after months of product testing and hardware and software integration work.

In addition to the early premieres and new guide, Starz will show two-minute branded segments before each SVOD movie. Similar to movie theater previews, the segments begin with a voiceover acknowledgement of what movie the customer has ordered. The segment continues with perhaps a trailer for another movie in the same genre, or an animated, humorous 30-second short of the movie.

Starz has contracted with Angry Aliens Productions to create the animated shorts. The animated characters, The Bunnies, parody movies, by providing a 30-second crash course on the movie synopsis. Starz has created 12 or so such parodies for the service.

Maglio sees the introductions as a way for Starz to further brand itself in a VOD world, and a mechanism to provide meaningful content to viewers who watch VOD differently than linear TV.

“We have to approach the on-demand world differently,” he said. “The on-demand world expects instant gratification. We’re adding value-added content and totally revised promotional strategies.”

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