TV films are still an important part of US cable's offering, despite the growth of series. Here key buyers tell Jules Grant what they are looking for. .
The telemovies and miniseries business has undergone a metamorphosis over the past few years. While US broadcast networks and major suppliers such as Alliance Atlantis, Saban, Hearst Corp and possibly Alchemy TV are out of the game, even specialised cable networks that once had film running through their veins, such as AMC (aka American Movie Classics) and IFC (Independent Film Channel), are opting for series....
Liberty Media-owned premium cable broadcaster Starz Entertainment is after content for the 16 movie channels it operates, according to executive VP of programming Stephan Shelanski (left).
"We're still 95% films, or even higher," says Shelanski. "Movies are the backbone of all of our programming and the deals we have with the studios - whether for first-run product or older product - are very long-term, so we have thousands of movies under licence through the next 10 to 15 years."
The channel portfolio includes the flagship Starz and Encore brands with about 17.5 million and 31.5 million subscribers respectively.
Starz is on the hunt for all types of films to serve its genre channels. "We buy English-language films from all over the world, such as Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. We also license a decent number of foreign-language films that sit on our channel line-up," Shelanski says.
"In terms of viewership, the films that we get from the major studios have a clear advantage because there is so much marketing and PR behind those films. The indie and older films find their audience but don't perform as well, as there is less awareness.
"We look for suspense and action as well as art house and higher-end films from other nations. We have a channel called Cinema where we play our independent and art house films."
Shelanksi says that now Starz has the movie side locked up, the company wants to focus much more on original series. The films, which still out-perform series, are used to drive audiences to the series.
Starz has moved into original series such as Crash, a spin-off from the movie and now in its second season; Party Down, a second season of which is on its way; as well as comedy Head Case.
In January, Spartacus: Blood and Sand (above) will hit the network, featuring the graphic novel feel of Hollywood films such as 300 and Sin City. Gravity, coming up in spring 2010, meanwhile, follows the comic exploits of a group of eccentric out-patient suicide survivors and features a Krysten Ritter (Breaking Bad), Ivan Sergei (Charmed, The Break Up) and Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction).
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