Liberty Delivers Strong 4Q, Starz Stops 'Crash'
Starz has opted not to order a third season of "Crash," the TV drama from the team behind the eponymous Oscar-winning film. The decision comes as the pay-TV operator is trying to add original series to its traditional movie lineup and with former HBO chief Chris Albrecht now in control.
"Crash," starring Dennis Hopper, was a co-production of Lionsgate and Starz. It premiered in October 2008 and ended season two in December after 26 total episodes.
Bill Myers, president-COO of Starz Entertainment at parent Liberty Media, said "Crash" failed to meet "audience expectations" and led to a writeoff of $8 million derived from production costs in the fourth quarter.
However, executives expressed optimism about "Spartacus: Blood and Sand," a 13-episode series that debuted in January on the Starz networks and has already been renewed for a second in 2011. The show was the subject of a significant marketing campaign last quarter (as was "Crash").
Starz has plans to air two original comedies - a second season of "Party Down" and the new "Gravity" -- this spring.
Albrecht became president-CEO of Starz, LLC in January, with oversight of pay channels under the Starz and Encore brands. He helped HBO develop a run of original hits during his tenure there.
Albrecht signaled Thursday that a sort of re-launch at Starz is coming that aims for a brand "that feels cohesive" between the original shows and movie offerings. He added that the aim is to deliver original series and some events year-round, with "a full complement" in place by the end of 2011.
"The job of programming any of these premium services I think is to create value and also differentiation from the other entries in the category," Albrecht said on a Liberty Media earnings call Thursday. "I never felt that the pay TV game was a ratings game; it's really more an attitudinal game with the subscribers and the operators."
Separately, on the Liberty call, Myers said Starz is evaluating "strategic alternatives" for the money-losing Overture Films studio, which has looked to produce films on a modest budget since it launched in 2006.
Overall, Starz Entertainment saw revenue up 5% in the fourth quarter to $300 million -- $31 million of the increase was due to rate increases. Revenues were up 7% for all of 2009 to $1.2 billion.
Operating income swung positive to $65 million from a loss a year ago.
Also within Liberty Media, QVC increased revenue in the holiday-season, October-December quarter by 13% (to $1.7 billion) -- with the beauty, consumer electronics and fashion jewelry categories solid, according to CEO Mike George.
The company's push into e-commerce also saw growth, with a 27% revenue jump for QVC.com. George said revenue improvements were "well ahead of most retailers." Globally, revenue was up 14% to $2.4 billion -- 71% of revenue is derived from the U.S. -- while operating income soared 40%. But for all of 2009, revenue was up a lesser 1% globally (to $7.4 billion) and operating income 7%.