Starz 'Crashes' Into VOD

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Premium service Starz will allow affiliates to offer the first two episodes of its upcoming original drama Crash free on video on demand in advance of the series premiere on the linear network.

The network also plans a major ad blitz to pique viewer interest in the series, which will launch just as the broadcast networks return to the air with fall premieres and returning series.

Crash is certainly a very important initiative to the company,” said vice president of marketing and branding communications Kelly Bumann. The launch of the hour-long drama is seen as phase two of Starz's rebranding effort. The network kicked off a $25 million refresh in April, including a redesigned logo and tagline, all in an effort to reinforce Starz as a destination for top entertainment.

The company has also invested in its own studio, acquiring IDT Entertainment in 2006, then creating Overture Films the same year. The latter studio will develop eight to 12 theatrical films a year.

Crash is inspired by the 2005 Academy Award-winning best picture. (One writer at the recent Television Critics Association Tour in Beverly Hills, Calif., said the similarities between the movie and series is that they are “both set in Los Angeles and everyone seems to be angry.”) Like the film, the series will depict the intertwined lives of a handful of Angelenos: a “psycho” music mogul (Dennis Hopper, who indicated he may have been inspired by a former office mate — music producer and murder suspect Phil Spector), his African-American limo driver, a Guatemalan immigrant, a policeman and a Korean-American emergency medical technician.

The series will debut Oct. 17, but the affiliate sneak previews, either on VOD or linear preview channels, will begin at the beginning of the month. Starz will also examine opportunities with other distribution partners to allow sampling of the show.

“We want to do sampling [early] so they have a chance to sign up for Starz,” added senior vice president of affiliate sales and support Debbie Egner.

And to ensure that operators' customer care workers are informed and excited about the series, Starz will ship 100,000 DVDs of the first episode to be shared with call center employees, executives said, “so they get hooked on the show” and describe it to potential subscribers.

Executives said fall is a perfect time to launch the program, despite the potential competition from broadcast fare. Because of those launches, there are more people watching television and Crash will provide a new attraction after a summer of strong titles such as Spider-Man 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.

Starz will launch a national television ad campaign for the series at the end of September, including national broadcast and targeted cable buys, as well as local spot cable. Viral campaigns to tout the show are under development.

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