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Starz CEO Chris Albrecht: Premium cable is too focused on 'affluent white males'

(L-R) Actor Patrick Stewart, producer Courtney Kemp Agboh and Stars CEO Chris Albrecht attend the Starz
(L-R) Actor Patrick Stewart, producer Courtney Kemp Agboh and Stars CEO Chris Albrecht attend the Starz "Blunt Talk" series premiere on Aug. 10, 2015 in Los Angeles.
Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Starz

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The Frame's series of corner office conversations with TV network chiefs has addressed issues of gender and racial diversity, as well as asking the question "Is there too much TV these days" with Showtime President David Nevins and the CEO of FX Networks and FX Productions, John Landgraf. In this installment, the Frame's John Horn visits the office of Chris Albrecht, CEO of Starz, whose current shows include "Power," "Outlander" and the upcoming "Ash vs. Evil Dead."

Albrecht was formerly the chairman and CEO of HBO and has a long history in original television programming. Among the topics covered in the conversation: How he woos creators like Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, what he thinks of a possible merger with Lionsgate and how riding the subways of NYC as a kid made him want to create content by and for a diverse audience.

Interview Highlights

How do you describe the Starz brand?

I would describe the Starz brand as premium [and] differentiated from the other things on television. We are focused on serving underserved audiences in the premium space.

Underserved meaning...?

Having been in the premium space for three decades, it's often focused on affluent white males.  

You're one of the few channels that has looked out and said, there's a tremendous audience that needs shows. Black audiences, women audiences and Latino audiences. So what do you think the industry doesn't see in terms of how they can better serve a diverse TV audience?  

All you have to do is look at the face of America and realize that the executive suites in Hollywood don't necessarily reflect that diversity. ... I've had a chance to work with a lot of talented people at HBO on the comedy side. Working with so many terrific artists of so many different ethnicities, you quickly learn that no one has a stranglehold on what's good.  

You cast a wide net.

Hey, I'm a New York City boy who traveled back and forth to school on the subways. If you wanna see what America looks like, get on the E or the F train.

Does your program philosophy at Starz differ from the philosophy you had at HBO?

Yes. It is different. At HBO in the late '90s and early 2000s, we were trying to use the Emmys as a third-party validation for our brand. As television has proliferated, the Emmy Awards are one measure of some very subjective qualifications that a relatively small group of people bestow on television shows, that to me have more to do with the software of buzz, rather than the hardware of the ideas and execution behind the shows.  

We're not chasing Emmy Awards [at Starz] because I don't think we're going to win that game. We're chasing loyalty from subscribers. We're chasing new opportunities to have people who previously didn't think that premium was for them. 

What do you think are the biggest obstacles not just to Starz but to television overall?

The thing I worry about is when it becomes about winning and not about growing the medium. There's the business part of this ... and certainly that's a big part.  It's not necessary for a business to be cutthroat for people to thrive and survive. As I see a lot of the big mergers happening, and companies getting larger on the distribution side ... I think it is worrisome. There can be a win-win in these conversions for both companies and for the viewer.

So where does that put you in the conversations about Starz merging with a company like Lionsgate?

I do think that there are many advantages to potential alliances between companies. Those alliances can be anything, like making a television show, to a joint venture on a new business, to merging the companies and creating one new entity.

Does the idea of a Lionsgate deal make sense to you?

Look, I think there are potential benefits to it. Obviously putting two large companies together — we're both multi-billion dollar companies — is challenging. We've had conversations about ways we could work together, but there's certainly nothing to announce at this time.

Is there a show that you let get away? One you didn't pull the trigger on, that went on to have success with one of your competitors? 

We tried hard to get "The Strain." I had worked with [Guillermo del Toro] when I was at HBO on "Pan's Labyrinth." And I was really excited to get back in business with him. FX won that toss. But that was one. Especially now that we have "Ash [vs. Evil Dead]."  That would have been a killer, one-two punch. No pun intended.

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