Q. I got a statement from Comcast yesterday saying I will lose Starz later this year and get Epix instead. I’m interested in Epix, but I really like Starz. So will Comcast really get rid of Starz? — Teresa, Boston.
Teresa, you have been placed in the middle of a fee fight. Let me explain.
Comcast yesterday announced that on December 4 it add the Epix premium channel to most programming packages. Then on December 10, it will remove all 17 Starz channels (including Encore) from those packages, effectively replacing the channel with Epix. (Starz is the home of such shows as Outlander, pictured above, and Power.)
On December 12, the cable operator will add three more Epix channels, Epix Drive-In, Epix Hits and Epix 2, to those same programming plans.
The four Epix channels will be a nice addition for millions of Comcast subscribers who will be able to watch such original shows as Godfather of Harlem, Pennyworth, Get Shorty and NFL: The Grind.
But what about Starz? Will it be gone forever? This is what Comcast had to say yesterday on its web site:
“We decided to replace Starz channels in certain packages with EPIX. We have also reduced the number of Starz channels while continuing to offer the main Starz channel and Starz On Demand. This will help us manage programming costs that are passed on to our customers while continuing to make this content available to those who want to watch it.”
Comcast’s statement includes a link to a page where you can add Starz for $12 a month.
If this seems strange to you, Starz offered some clarification yesterday with its own statement:
“Starz has been working diligently to reach a fair market distribution agreement with Comcast Xfinity in order to continue providing our shared customers with access to our acclaimed line-up of premium television content,” the channel said. “However, months before our contract deadline and in spite of our best efforts to engage in meaningful discussions, Comcast has publicly stated their intention to drop our networks from all packages and bundles, ignoring industry precedent and demonstrating a total disregard for its customers, communities, suppliers and other stakeholders.”
So Comcast’s carriage agreement with Starz is coming to an end, and the cable operator is turning up the heat by announcing it will pull its channels from all bundles.
Normally, what pay TV operators say during a carriage negotiation can be easily dismissed. They make numerous threats in order to pressure the programmer to accept reduced fees. (The programmers make similar threats.)
But in this case, it would be difficult for Comcast to retreat from its decision to add the Epix channels to those programming packages. The cable op has told its subscribers they are coming.
So the question becomes: Could Comcast include both Epix and Starz in the programming packages? Or would it only accept offering Starz as a standalone channel for, say, $12 a month?
My guess is that Comcast has made its decision. In carriage talks with Starz, it will only agree to terms that include Starz as a separate channel. There are very few, if any, pay TV operators that bundle two premium channels in their regular programming packages. In fact, offering even one is rare.
And now that Comcast has said it will include Epix, there’s really no room left for Starz.
Will Starz accept being a standalone channel on Comcast? Considering that Comcast has more video subscribers than any other cable TV operator, it might not have a choice.
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— Phillip Swann