Is Starz going to be the new HBO?

Chris Albrecht – former head of HBO – is assuming the CEO role at Starz as reported by Nikki Finke at Deadline Hollywood here and here.  According to Liberty Media, parent of Starz Entertainment, Starz is moving into original content development to augment their hit-movie model, following HBO and Showtime’s mixed content models.  Mega-award-winning quality is the cornerstone of HBO’s original programming model and is HBO’s singular differentiator by leaps & bounds and millions of subscribers from Showtime and Starz (the other two premium network owners*).  And with Chris Albrecht, Starz has taken the golden goose.

What will this mean for the 3 networks?  I believe this will change the balance of power from HBO to Starz; it’s that significant.  The reason is is that since Chris Albrecht was released from HBO, HBO’s original content has been off the mark.  Chris has the relationships in Hollywood and the best-of-the-best want to work with him.  Chris has the wherewithal to develop and percolate great shows and knows that it can take time for great shows to gain a following.  Sex and the City took 3 seasons before ratings soared.  Same for the Sopranos. 

But today, HBO’s storylines wander and shows are cut after two seasons.  Unlike former finance-guy-turned-CEO Jeff Bewkes (who’s now running Time Warner), HBO’s current finance-guy-turned-CEO Bill Nelson just doesn’t have that high-caliber, Hollywood-producers inner voice.  Unfortunately for Bill, lightening hasn’t struck that chair twice.

Moreover, Chris has a lot riding on this and a lot to prove after being ousted from HBO following a domestic dispute which happen to take place in front of Las Vegas Police Officers.  His last venture fund fizzled and with renewed confidence and fire-in-his-belly instilled by Liberty Media, Chris will soar. 

The only caveat I’d put on this bet is that Liberty Media is owned by John Malone, probably the smartest dealmaker around and king of the convoluted deals (e.g. IAC and Barry Diller) but whose reputation for cheapness abounds.  For Starz to surpass HBO, John has to trust Chris’ inner voice, something that I doubt he’s ever done before.  It takes time to develop shows so look for new CA influenced shows late next year.  Buy stock now.

*Starz Entertainment owns Starz and Encore; HBO owns HBO and Cinemax; and Showtime owns Showtime and The Movie Channel.

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