Starz Entertainment has launched its first authenticated online services for existing pay TV subscribers to its premium channels in a deal with cable operator Cox Communications.
Dubbed Starz Play and Encore Play, they are making good on Starz CEO Chris Albrecht's promise to roll out the company's own branded offers in the vein of HBO Go.
Cox will also make available a third Starz service, Movieplex Play, at some point in the future, and Starz expects to unveil similar deals with pay TV operators in the future. Cox will first launch the linear Movieplex channel. It got rights for that and the Play services in a recent carriage deal renewal with Starz.
Like HBO Go, Starz's authenticated online services won't be available on a standalone basis to people who aren't pay TV customers with a Starz subscription. The services, which Albrecht had promised would make their debut before the end of the year, offer unlimited streaming access to the content.
Starz and Cox didn't comment on financial aspects of their agreement.
Combined, the Starz, Encore and Movieplex Play services offer approximately 1,500 movies, originals and other TV content every month. Starz Play offers approximately 400, Encore Play about 900, and Movieplex Play about 200 movies every month.
“We are very pleased to partner with Cox in launching the Starz Play and Encore Play suite of authenticated online products that we believe will bring tremendous value to our premium subscribers,” said Albrecht. "Starz and Encore have long been pioneers in the deployment of advanced services, being the first premium networks to offer authenticated access to our programing through distributors’ online platforms. Now, from big screens to mobile devices, a deep collection of movies and original programming from Starz and Encore provides a winning combination for both our distributors and customers."
"We are thrilled to be the first distributor to provide the Starz Play and Encore Play suite to our customers,” said Mark Greatrex, chief marketing and sales officer, Cox Communications. “What’s more, this is a tremendous benefit for our Cox high-speed Internet bundle customers who now can watch their favorite premium programming anytime, anywhere, all while enjoying the value of Cox’s bundle.”
Starz Play will launch with complete seasons of Starz original series Spartacus, Magic City and Boss (season 1 complete, season 2 episodes 1-8, new episodes premiere the day after their TV premiere), and first-run movies from Disney and Sony, as well as library films from various studios. It will offer approximately 400 monthly selections - 100 episodes of Starz originals and 300 movies, including Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Cars 2, The Smurfs, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Bad Teacher, The Muppets and Moneyball.
Encore Play will offer approximately 900 monthly selections, including 300 movies and originals, including Gnomeo & Juliet, Battle: Los Angeles, Tron: Legacy, Batman, Batman Returns, True Lies, Taxi Driver, Babe, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Twins, and Carlito’s Way, as well as classic TV series Shogun, The Pillars of the Earth, Gunsmoke and Bonanza.
Movieplex Play will offer the likes of Raging Bull, Godzilla and Ghostbusters.
"We will rotate some of the content, mostly on the feature films side, to keep things fresh, but we will have critical mass," said Ed Huguez, president of affiliate distribution for Starz Entertainment. "There is a lot of interest from all our distributors, so we expect additional agreements for our authenticated services soon."
He reiterated that just like HBO and Showtime, Starz wasn't planning to make its online services available on a standalone basis. "We are dedicated to our core business and distribution partners," Huguez said. "The best business approach is to offer this through them. It is a win-win. We are not looking to offer this directly to subscribers."
About 70 percent of Starz subscribers already get online access to Starz content through integrated services offered and branded by such pay TV giants as Comcast, according to the company.
"There are benefits to offering authenticated services even if a partner already has an integrated service," Huguez said. "Most distributors are interested in providing consumers options. And for us, it is our expression of our brand and user interface."
Jonathan Freeland, vp of video marketing at Cox Communications said the deal fits in with the cable giant's focus on further strengthening its pay TV value proposition.
"This is part of our overall effort to provide subscribers content beyond the TV and expand the access to content to the PC, laptop, tablet and smartphone environment," he said. "The strategy is based on talks with customers who say they want access beyond the TV. We want to multiply the value of the content we provide to users."
Cox also offers HBO Go and Max Go, as well as Epix's online services in the premium TV category. "This is the next piece being added," Freeland said. "The value of offering content across multiple platforms enhances the value of the overall premium platform. We're happy with the way it is offered. The customers receiving it see it as additional value."
John Malone's Liberty Media is expected to spin off Starz into a separate company.
Free downloads of the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch apps are available in Apple's iTunes store. The services are accessible through Wi-Fi and broadband connections. Cellular connectivity for Android phones and tablets, as well as gaming consoles will be launched in the future.
Users can register up to five devices with their account. Facebook and Twitter integrations let users talk about the content they watch.