Starz, Netflix And How Industry Jealousies Strangle A Golden Goose
from the we'll-see dept
In a somewhat surprising move, Starz has decided to not renew its contract with Netflix. Many other TV channels and movie studios are sure to follow as their current contracts end. Even though Netflix is somewhat braced for this, Starz was one of the few providers willing to supply newer titles, thanks to its deals with Disney and Sony Pictures. Not only that, but Netflix’s licensing deal with Starz was somewhat of a coup with its bargain-basement price tag ($30 million) which helped it get its streaming service off the ground. While this loss will probably adversely affect Netflix in the short term, in the long term it may have more of an effect on Starz.
According to Starz CEO Chris Albrecht:
Starz Entertainment has ended contract renewal negotiations with Netflix. When the agreement expires on February 28, 2012, Starz will cease to distribute its content on the Netflix streaming platform. This decision is a result of our strategy to protect the premium nature of our brand by preserving the appropriate pricing and packaging of our exclusive and highly valuable content. With our current studio rights and growing original programming presence, the network is in an excellent position to evaluate new opportunities and expand its overall business.
In between all the jargon, there’s a message: Netflix isn’t willing to pay us what we think our content is worth. Unfortunately for Starz, it may soon find out that Netflix was actually paying what the content was worth. In Starz’ opinion, it can go elsewhere and make more. More accurately, Starz just has to go somewhere else.
Despite the fact that Netflix has offered $300 million for continued access to Starz content, it wasn’t enough for those swimming upstream of the cable channel. In all likelihood, $300 million would have been plenty except for the uncomfortable fact that Netflix is beating cable television at its own game. Pressure from Liberty Media (which owns Starz and invests in Time Warner Cable) to create a new, higher priced tier for Starz very likely killed the deal:
[R]epresentatives for the cable network owned by John Malone’s Liberty Media were insistent that Netflix create a new “tier” for subscribers who wanted its movies at a higher price than the $7.99 it currently charges for online video. That would have put Netflix more in line with the pricing of cable and satellite companies, a step the video company apparently wasn’t willing to take.
“Starz could have taken a check from Netflix, but there would have been pushback from cable and satellite operators and its studio partners,” said analyst Tony Wible of Janney Montgomery Scott.
Unfortunately for Netflix and its customers, the content providers seem to think that they can reset the clock back to a “simpler” time by withholding new releases in order to drum up plastic disc sales or, in the case of Liberty Media, turning its content into a “premium” in an effort to shore up its flagging subscriber base.
This all points to an incredible level of arrogance on the part of the content providers. First off, they assume the public cares about release dates, exclusive licensing deals and PPV windows. I can assure you that the public could not give less of a shit about when, where and how the content providers release their movies and TV shows. Secondly, they do everything in their power to turn back the clock to captive audiences, tied to a single television and handcuffed to a single cable box.
The public just wants access to the content in its most convenient (to them) form. The game has changed (thanks to Netflix and others) and no one feels compelled to deal with one service only for their entertainment. Liberty Media may think it can set the price for its content to whatever dollar amount is best for it, but consumers have given no indication that they like sudden price increases. In fact, consumers are finding cable to be less and less essential thanks to services like Netflix, but rather than learn from the past, content providers seem to think that new media has to play by old media’s rules and consquently, swiftly ruin everything they touch.
These members of the entertainment industry also seem to forget the file-sharing elephant in the room. (Perhaps it’s because Industry-Vision™ corrective lenses render this animal as a “scapegoat.”) If this short-sighted pursuit of DVD sales and PPV income continues, they’re going to find customers fleeing to “content providers” who can give them what they want when they want it, all at a price the entertainment industry can’t afford. And instead of being able to collect “too little,” they’ll be collecting nothing at all.