A Recipe for Co-Pro Success

Starz is set to benefit from its new ownership by studio Lionsgate and the burgeoning international coproduction trend, according to Carmi Zlotnik.

Carmi Zlotnik, president of original programming at cable network Starz, believes the trend for American television companies to co-produce with partners in Europe is only going to continue in 2017.

And Zlotnik thinks this is a good thing. In a period of increasing coproductions, when pooling finances are necessary to create bigger, better shows, he praises the effect it has had on production companies, forcing them to be more open-minded and nimble in the market.

Commenting on Starz’s collaborations with U.K. producers, he says: “Look at the success we’ve had with The White Queen and The White Princess, and the success of The Night Manager and The Night Of  [all of which had U.K. producers onboard]. We’re constantly reading things that have come from Canada and the U.K.”

One of the upsides of coproduction is companies becoming more aware of global trends, he says, adding that Starz has benefitted from connections and conversations with distinctive content makers, regardless of whether the network actually ended up investing in their shows.

“It’s good to participate in the larger market and be aware of it even if it is something that, for financial, strategic or timing reasons, you can’t end up doing. The fact that a writer or project is on your radar is important for opportunities down the road or might inform the decisions you later make,” he says.

The Starz chief suggests, however, the growth in coproduction brings with it a greater necessity to take the requirements of other business partners onboard.

“The best coproductions are made by partners who want to make the same thing. If you can find that compatibility then things work well. When you don’t have compatibility, they don’t work well. When you are a producer or a studio sitting in between a few of these entities, it’s kind of incumbent on you to understand everybody’s needs and how to achieve them and maintain good conduits for communication.”

Some television execs have criticized the effect Netflix has had on the burgeoning coproduction sector, with its $6bn programming budget and demands for global rights leaving little room for other partners.

Zlotnik, however, sees no reason for Starz to be concerned. “Everyone is running around with pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and looking for people with other pieces that fit well with your pieces. Since the acquisition by Lionsgate, our goal is to own more and have more rights so that we can feed our distribution company until we have more optionality about what we want to do down the road.”

Lionsgate completed its $4.4bn acquisition of Starz last month, and Zlotnik believes the two companies will prove constructive partners in growing the number of originals on the Starz network. “We’re just increasing gradually. Year by year, we add a show or two. It’s one of the conversations we’re having with Lionsgate: about volume and the types of shows.”

Nonetheless, it’s noticeable that Starz no longer considers itself in competition with VOD services, and that premium cable channels now incorporate streaming options into their business model. The networks have had to acclimatize to the new reality of changing viewing habits and adapt to the needs of the market. Starz now has an app, an online video player, and a social media presence to go alongside its cable channel in order to capture some of those cord-cutters.

“We want people to subscribe to our service. It’s not just about premiere numbers,” Zlotnik says. “We’ve got data coming back through the app so we can see different things about viewership habits. We know The Girlfriend Experience had a different audience on-demand than on linear circuits. So we’re bringing it back with a new set of stories and with the writers reprising their roles.”

Zlotnik also outlined his content priorities for NATPE. They include the fantasy romance Outlander, which recently received a Golden Globe nod for star Catriona Balfe, and the much-anticipated American Gods. The adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel is expected to premiere on Starz in April. The exec also confirmed that the upcoming dramatization of Phillippa Gregory novel The White Princess is expected to debut on their network in a matter of weeks.

This article was originally published in the Day 2 issue of the NATPE Daily. Read more from NATPE Daily Day 2.