As expected, Starz has become the latest premium network to go over-the-top with the launch of a standalone retail app/service that will sell for $8.99 per month and make its debut on iOS and Android tablets and smartphones and Apple TV devices.
Starz’s new OTT offering, also accessible to subscribers via Web browsers and primarily targeted to broadband-only U.S. households, is starting off with a library of more than 2,400 on-demand titles, including network originals such as Outlander and Power and a slate of movies, including, later this year, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Starz estimates that the app is booting up with about 1,600 series episodes and 850 movies.
Under this is approach, Starz will sell the new OTT service via the Apple App Store and Google Play, which will carry the customer relationship in terms of billing and customer care. Amazon also sells Starz subscriptions as an add-on, for $8.99 per month, to Amazon Prime members.
Starz’s standalone, OTT offering, which allows subs to access up to four simultaneous streams, follows last April’s launch of HBO Now ($14.99 per month) and the July 2015 debut of Showtime’s OTT service, which sells for $10.99 per month on an a la carte basis.
In a different twist, Starz’s OTT offering will also let subscribers download most of the titles in its library for later offline viewing. About 2,200 of the 2,400 assets offered on the new OTT product will have download rights out of the chute, Jeff Hirsch, Starz’s president of global marketing and product planning, said.
Update: Starz currently offers a live stream via Starz.com to customers who access it via their TV Everywhere credentials or the new digital standalone offering.
To help drive further interest in the new offering, Starz said the second installment premiere episode of Outlander will be made available on April 7 for streaming and downloading ahead of its official premiere on the Starz linear channel on April 9 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
In addition to supporting the new standalone OTT offering, the new Starz app will also be used to support the premium network’s authenticated TV Everywhere service offered through its mix of MVPD partners, including cable operators and telco TV and satellite TV service providers. Adding another layer of uniformity, the new app will also deliver content (for streaming and downloading) from the Starz sister networks, Movieplex and the newly-rebranded Starz Encore.
With the new app, Starz will seek new ways to expand its sub base. Starz, the flagship offering, ended 2015 with about 23.6 million subs, with 32.2 million coming way of Starz Encore.
Hirsch said the new, all-in-one Starz app will eventually support a wide range of other platforms, but didn’t pinpoint what those will be in the early phases of its availably.
However, Starz Play, Starz’s legacy TVE app that will eventually be phased out, currently runs on several platforms, including iOS and Android mobile devices, the Xbox 360 and Xbox One consoles, the Amazon Fire TV, Amazon Fire tablets, Roku players and Roku TVs, the Google Chromecast streaming adapter, and Android TV-powered products such as the Nvidia Shield, Razer Forge TV, and Nexus Player. Those would all seem to be likely candidates for Starz’s new app.
Hirsch said a key challenge early on for Starz is to embed a retail mentality into a business that has traditionally relied on MVPD partnerships.
“It’s a different skillset than I think we’ve grown up with,” he said. “Trying to find the consumer who’s not in the MVPD video landscape…is a challenge I’ve been focused on.”
“Starz has entered the market today with an enormous value proposition for consumers,” Starz CEO Chris Albrecht said, in a statement. “Our programing will now be more widely available to the 20 million broadband only homes of cord nevers, cord cutters and cord shavers, including Millennials and other underserved consumers who need other viable subscription service options.”
The new standalone service, he added, "will also help fortify the broadband business of many of our traditional distributors and be even more appealing for inclusion in future video bundles.”
In some respects, this is Starz’s second shot at a standalone, OTT-delivered subscription offering. Starz previously tested those waters with a Web browser-focused service called Vongo that came to be before the rise of an apps-driven market driven by faster broadband speeds and the widespread availability of smartphones, tablets and TV-connected devices. The short-lived Vongo service was launched by Starz in January 2006, and shut it down in the second half of 2008 as the premium programmer moved ahead with the Starz Play offering.