“When it is dark enough, you can see the stars,” wrote the great American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson. Things were looking dark for Starz when Comcast, the largest pay TV distributor in the country, said in February that it would no longer carry the premium network. But as with HBO and others, over-the-top (OTT) video is now making a big impact for Starz and could mitigate the blow Comcast dealt. While Starz lost 6.2 million Comcast subscribers, it recaptured 1 million of those viewers in the first six weeks, and the company now has 10.6 million OTT subscribers worldwide.
Ultimately, for Starz the rate of OTT increase is significantly higher than the rate of traditional pay-TV decrease, suggesting that OTT will soon eclipse pay-TV figures for the company. Effectively, Comcast’s decision to no longer carry Starz pushed a whole segment of the customer base into Starz’s OTT service. You could argue that Comcast did Starz a favor, as the network now has higher margin customers for direct-to-consumer business. Meanwhile, Comcast will likely feel little impact by substituting other premium channels in for Starz.
According to Interpret’s New Media Measure data, Starz ranks third among premium movie channels, behind HBO and Showtime, with 14% of broadband households subscribing to the cable network. However, the bulk (65%) of viewers don’t subscribe to any premium channels. This underscores the importance of Starz’s shift to OTT. As of early 2020, almost 20% of households claimed to have accessed Starz service on at least one screen in the prior three months. The number subscribing directly to the Starz OTT service is likely to climb as Starz puts greater emphasis on the OTT model.