What is the Starz mission about going after premium women? Has Netflix been a boon for Outlander? And will we ever see a spin-off about Lord John Grey? EW sat down with Starz CEO Jeffrey Hirsch for an exclusive interview about the network’s programming goals and the future of one of its most popular series.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When you heard that Sony made the deal with Netflix to stream Outlander, were you optimistic about what it would do for the show?
JEFFREY HIRSCH: To be honest, I don’t like the passionate fan base for one of our two biggest shows spending any of their viewing time with any other service but Starz. That was a deal that was done before my time here at Starz. But again, Sony owns the rights to that show. It’s probably why Starz, on a going-forward basis, looks to own all rights so we’re not in the situation where we can’t exploit a wonderful show all over the world. At the time, we were a domestic business and didn’t really have any twinkle in our eye about being a global subscription video on-demand service. Four years later we are in 50 countries around the world and continue to be the fastest growing OTT premium service domestically. It would have been amazing to have Outlander as a global show for the service.
Let’s talk about the mission of the network. Did you one day look at what Outlander was bringing to Starz and decide, “You know what? This should be our target audience!”
When we got into the direct-to-consumer business and became very close to our own consumers, we were able to pull a lot of data that we’ve never seen before. It became very clear to us that what was driving our network was women, and if you look at the content we have on the air, whether it’s Outlander, Vida, or even Power, they are really driven by a female audience. We also found that women are twice as likely to buy apps under $10. They are more brand loyal, their lifetime value is longer. Women are driving this SVOD transition and we are square in the middle of it and probably the only premium service that is really leaning in and focused on women.
Outlander is a heavily serialized show with a dedicated audience. Is it a challenge to attract new viewers to the show? Do you think newbies feel that if they haven’t watched from the beginning, they probably won’t want to catch up now?
Every season we’ve continued to see the audience grow and new users come to the franchise. If you look at Outlander, it really is what we’re trying to program on Starz. It’s generally the woman in the home who finds the show and then drags her spouse alongside to watch it. We’re not trying to be Lifetime. We’re trying to be for women but not at the exclusion of men. Outlander brings both women and men to watch it. It has so many different ways in for the audience, whether it’s romance, love, drama, story, loss, separation, or reunions.
In an interview last July, you held up Outlander as an example of a series that appeals to the 25-54 demo while offering “some eye candy for that audience and people like when he [Sam Heughan] has his shirt off.” The comment didn’t sit well with some of the drama’s most ardent fans.
Look, I think the show is rich in a lot of different ways to bring a female audience into a great story. I think this season features some of Caitriona Balfe‘s best work with some very, very hard content at the end of the season. It will be tough to watch for a lot of people. I love the fan base. I love how passionate they are. The fact that we have a Droughtlander! I mean, what other show has a secondary B-side called Droughtlander? That’s what you want. You want content for a fan base that is so passionate and so obsessed with it. Whether it’s good, bad or ugly, they are talking about it all the time. And I’m thrilled with it. Sam is a phenomenal actor and if anything, the comment probably didn’t do great justice to how he has developed as an actor over the last five seasons. If anything, I want him to know that we value him for his ability to bring that character to the screen and to the fan base.
How do you feel about the future of the show?
I think season 5 is one of the strongest, best seasons yet and I think it will continue to grow an audience as we continue to build our direct-to-consumer business that allows consumers on a cost-effective basis to get into the show at $8.99, versus buying a $140 cable package. I think we’ll continue to bring more and more audience to the show. And it’s also helped us figure out what we want to build around it, like Dangerous Liaisons, The White Queen, The White Princess, and The Spanish Princess. These are shows about great women in history, which is a great genre for us to continue to lean into. Outlander was kind of the first and continues to be the bellwether for us.
One last thing: Diana Gabaldon has written novellas about Lord John Grey, who is played so beautifully on Outlander by David Berry. Any talks about possibly developing that into a spin-off series?
We continue to talk on a regular basis about developing the story line around Outlander. It’s something that we are aware of. We want to continue to serve that audience with what we think are the best stories.