SVOD Is Job One for Starz's Top Marketer

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Subscription video-on-demand — the last big assignment for departing Starz Encore Group LLC chief marketing officer Mike Hale — will be a principal business challenge for Jillaina Wachendorf, his colleague-turned-successor as senior vice president of marketing.

But no significant strategic shifts are in the offing for SVOD or any of the other items on Starz Encore's marketing plate, Wachendorf said last week.

Hale and Wachendorf joined the pay TV programmer at roughly the same time in 1991, and worked side-by-side on various marketing projects.

"Mike did a phenomenal job over the years, and left me with a wonderful jumping-off point," she said. "I'll take my time to look at things anew."

Hale, also a Starz Encore executive vice president, will stay on with the company through year-end to complete a few initiatives, then embark on a year or more of philanthropic work in the Los Angeles area.

In the release in which he announced his resignation, Hale described his about-to-conclude tour of duty at Starz Encore as "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride."

Wachendorf, who directed affiliate services at regional channel Pro Am Sports System (now known as Fox Sports Detroit) before joining Starz, can't top that description.

"I've been here enough to know that it's a wild ride, but a delicious one," she added.

Prices vary

For now, Wachendorf will continue Starz Encore's SVOD rollout course. Affiliates bundle the programmer's "Super Pak" of channels, which is priced at around $10 above expanded basic tiers and touted as a gateway to digital services, with a SVOD option.

In some locations, SVOD is priced at as much as $8 per month, while in others, there's no charge to customers. She calls the process "brand transformation," as in using Starz's movie-oriented services to push digital.

"Those analog non-premium subscribers, the majority of basic customers out there, are still waiting for a driver to push them into digital," Wachendorf said. "SVOD gives us more muscle. It's a matter of rolling it out at the right price and package level.

"When that happens, they will transfer spending from the video store into cable. You can then upsell them on high-speed data, interactive TV and all the rest of the new services."

One strategy she's determined to implement more broadly is the use of live customer sampling opportunities for SVOD. Since last July's Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing Summit in Boston, Starz Encore has taken a Jeep exhibit to shopping malls around the country.

"Once consumers get the live experience, they raise a wow factor," Wachendorf said.

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