Starz CEO Jeffrey Hirsch Lifts Lid on Local Originals Drive for SVOD Starzplay

Manori Ravindran

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Starz CEO Jeffrey Hirsch has outlined the local originals strategy for Starzplay, revealing that a slate of shows are being planned out of the Middle East and India as the business looks to complement its U.S. and English-language pipeline of content.

Speaking at the Berlinale Series Market and Conference on Wednesday, the executive told Variety that the Lionsgate-owned streamer, which is beginning to roll out as a standalone app globally, is “dipping our toe in local production.”

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“We have local production in India right now, as well as (Middle East service) Starzplay Arabia,” he said, adding that three to four originals will launch for Starz Arabia, while Spanish originals are also on the way.

Hirsch, who was appointed CEO in September following the departure of Chris Albrecht, chalked up Starzplay’s success to a robust content proposition, which includes Starz originals alongside Lionsgate’s vast catalogue, in addition to a growing slate of local originals.

As to how Starzplay will secure access to talent — which is proving to be the ultimate battle in certain markets where regional streamers are going up against SVOD giants — Hirsch remains dubious about the value of talent deals, and appeared confident the channel and platform’s female-centered play will organically lure new voices.

“We wrestle with that all the time,” he admitted. “I’m not convinced, personally, that (exclusive deals are) the right way to pool your money.”

The executive added: “Content — which is a great story or POV — comes from anywhere. It isn’t a commodity: it’s a fresh voice, POV and experience. When you are really going after premium content for women and hopefully some underserved voices, fresh voices come in built-in.”

According to Hirsch, in Hollywood, 27% of all directors, showrunners and writers are women. Comparatively, at Starz, 65% of these roles are occupied by women, and of that group, 41% are women of color.

Hirsch predicts that by 2025, Starzplay could achieve between 15 to 25 million global SVOD subscriptions via a combination of different markets, including Canada, MENA and Europe.

The platform is distributed via the likes of Amazon Channels and Apple TV, as well as local telco providers such as Orange, Telefonica and Vodafone. Meanwhile, the business is continuing talks with U.K. pay-TV operator Sky around integration on that platform, which hosts Netflix content. “Our goal is to be on every platform,” said Hirsch.

Meanwhile, standalone apps are also available in a number of markets, including Italy and Spain, which launched this week. In 2020, a direct-to-consumer offering will be rolled out in 20 markets altogether.

At its core, Starzplay is looking for “great drama and historical stories” in the vein of hit shows “The White Queen,” “The White Princess” and “Castle Rock.”

Hirsch maintains that the service is “not trying to be everything to everyone” such as a larger AVOD or SVOD platform. “We are not trying to be Netflix or Peacock; we’re not trying to be basic streaming, which is kids content, sports, news and weather. We are very bespoke and tailored in terms of adult, heavy drama, with high production value and deep storylines.”

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