Premium network Starz went dark to about 4.6 million Altice USA customers at midnight, with the cable operator suggesting that those that still want access to the service subscribe to the Starz standalone over-the-top product.
Starz had warned customers earlier this week that it could reach an impasse in its negotiations with Altice USA, which offers service in the New York metropolitan area under the Optimum brand and in the Midwest as Suddenlink. Starz had claimed Altice USA had refused to negotiate in good faith, while Altice chafed at what it claimed were pricing demands that would make the service more costly to its customers than if they just purchased the OTT product. In the end, Altice decided to let customers do just that, after Starz declined its offers, including one to extend its current agreement.
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"We are focused on providing the best content experience for our customers and continually evaluate which channels meet their needs and preferences relative to the cost of the programming imposed by content owners,” Altice said in a statement. “Given that Starz is available to all consumers directly through Starz' own over-the-top streaming service, we don't believe it makes sense to charge all of our customers for Starz programming, particularly when their viewership is declining and the majority of our customers don't watch Starz. We believe it is in the best interest of all our customers to replace Starz and StarzEncore programming with alternative entertainment channels that will provide a robust content experience at a great value."
Starz’ streaming product is available for about $8.99 per month. Altice said customers seeking more information can do so by visiting Optimum.net/starz.
Starz stuck to its guns in a brief statement, adding that it is willing to continue to try to hammer out a deal.
"Altice has shown an unwillingness to negotiate in good faith to the detriment of our shared customers, and they have removed Starz from their platform," Starz said in a statement. "We remain available to discuss a fair and reasonable agreement that will serve the interests of our loyal subscribers."
While Altice said Optimum or Suddenlink customers can still access Starz through the OTT service, it is launching replacement channels for customers who previously received Starz or StarzEncore as part of a video package, including Hallmark Drama, Sony Movies, MGM HD, HD Net Movies, Flix, and Cowboy Channel. Certain customers will also receive a complimentary subscription to TMC.
Despite Altice’s claims that its viewership within its footprint is declining, Starz says it has the No. 2 and No. 4 top drama in premium television and its programming has resonated with African-Americans and the LGTBQ communities. Power is the No. 1 show among African-Americans on premium television and also ranks high (No. 2) in African-American households in Altice’s footprint. And Outlander continues to attract high ratings among female viewers – it was 2017’s No. 2 scripted series behind HBO’s Game of Thrones, per Starz.
Altice USA customers who previously purchased Starz a la carte will have the option to receive another premium service or they can purchase the Starz OTT service directly through Starz (for less, Altice claims, than what it would be able to charge if it agreed to the network’s demands).