Starz Shelves 'Sharper Movies' HD Channel


Starz Encore Group has scrapped plans to launch the Sharper Movies HD channel in December, seeing a lack of interest from operators to charge a premium fee for the network.

At the National Show in June, Starz Encore unveiled Sharper Movies HD, a new high-definition movie channel with titles culled from various Starz Encore multiplex channels. It also planned to launch East and West coast feeds of a high-definition Starz! premium channel, Starz On Demand HD and East and West feeds of Starz Hi Res, in a 480i 16x9 format using less bandwidth than HDTV.

Starz Encore president of sales and marketing Bob Clasen said last week Starz HD, Starz on Demand HD and Starz Hi Res will launch in December, but Sharper Movies HD won't.

With most MSOs now focused on bundling new services such as subscription VOD and HDTV content in existing digital packages, Sharper Movies HD — which Starz Encore hoped would find a home in cable HDTV tiers — no longer has a niche.

"We're not going to go forward with that [Sharper Movies HD] if the industry is in fact going to simply be letting folks get the HD in packages and bundles and not charging à la carte for it," Clasen said.

In certain markets, such operators as Cox Communications Inc. and Insight Communications Co. are charging extra fees for Discovery HD Theater and ESPN HD.

But no MSOs are charging extra for HD versions of Starz rivals Home Box Office and Showtime to subscribers that already buy the standard-definition versions.

Starz Encore won't charge a premium fee for Starz HD and Starz Hi Res to existing Starz customers, Clasen said.

Clasen said last week that Starz Encore hasn't yet reached any deals with cable operators for Starz Hi Res, but expects small cable operators who haven't upgraded systems with HDTV bandwidth to have some interest.

"I think that the big guys aren't going to add Hi Res," he said, adding: "We're certainly not going to encourage anybody to launch us in high res if they want to watch us in high def."

Clasen said Comcast Corp. is the first affiliate signed up for Starz HD, part of the overall agreement the companies recently reached, ending legal disputes over an inherited Starz Encore carriage deal that dated back to Tele-Communications Inc.

Starz Encore chairman John Sie was bullish on Sharper Movies HD when plans for the network were unveiled at the National Show. "Our Sharper Movies HD channel will be the cornerstone of a unique new tier of programming that will include a premium, commercial-free movie service alongside ad-supported networks," Sie said in a statement at the time.

Sie also was keen on the 480i high-resolution format. "Less filling, great taste," he said. "I'm calling for a big movement towards spectrum efficiency."