Starz is a premium cable network launched in 1994, specializing in first-run movies. Unusually, it did not start as the first channel in its group; that honor would go to sister network Encore, which launched in 1991 under the ownership of then-giant cable provider TCI, which has since been absorbed into Comcast; before that happened, ownership was transferred from TCI to sister company Liberty Media, both owned by John Malone.
Starz has since been spun off as its own company. Encore started out as a solo channel, focusing on older movies, much like AMC back in those days. Over the years, it gradually shifted away from that focus, and now is a general movie network. Encore broke new ground in the TV world in 1994 when it started the first themed premium multiplex (paving the way for its rivals to do the same). Prior to this, the other big premium networks (HBO, Showtime) had at least one additional channel for themselves, and a sister network (Cinemax and The Movie Channel, respectively) that focused on more obscure titles.
Encore's plan was 7 different channels focusing on one specific genre (action flicks, westerns, etc.) But when they acquired some rights to first-run and recent movies from Universal, New Line Cinema, Carolco Pictures and Disney's sub-labels Touchstone Pictures, Hollywood Pictures and then-Disney-owned Miramax Films, they decided to create an 8th channel to show only these movies: Starz! It launched on February 1, 1994, primarily on TCI cable systems. However, it and the Encore multiplex continued to grow in the following years, as providers began to pick up the channel, especially Comcast systems after Liberty struck a deal with them in 1997 regarding Philadelphianote ; meanwhile, HBO and Showtime rushed to create their own multiplex services, but none of them really got off the ground until 1999-2000, when digital cable started becoming widespread.
In 1996, Starz! got its' own extension, with the launch of Starz! 2, which had a unique scheduling practice: the same movies each day for a week at the same times, like a movie theater (hence it was renamed Starz Theater in 1999). Gradually, the multiplex and Starz itself (who now has their very own multiplex) expanded, essentially become the premium TV equivalent of a Breakout Character, with Encore and MoviePlex alongside it.
The Starz Multiplex (previously known as the Starz Super Pak) includes:
- Starz Cinema: art-house films, launched in 1999; the only multiplex network not to have been rebranded since its' launch.
- Starz Comedy: Exactly What It Says on the Tin; launched in 2005, though it planned to launch in 2002, but was postponed for some reason.
- Starz Edge: 18-34 age range movies; previously Starz! 2 and Starz! Theater, rebranded in 2005. Used to air anime series like Black Lagoon and Hellsing during it's Animidnight block from the early to late 2000s.
- Starz inBlack: African-American movies; started in 1997 as a joint network with BET called BET Movies: Starz! 3; they dropped out in 2001 when Viacom (then-owner of rival Showtime) bought them; it was then known as Black Starz! until 2005.
- Starz Kids & Family: Focused on family-friendly films and some acquired content from Canada (like Angela Anaconda and Sonic Sat AM). Started out as two separate networks, Starz! Family (launched in 1999) and Starz! Kids (launched in 2003); they were merged into one network in 2005.
The Encore Multiplex includes:
- StarzEncore Action: Lots of action, also aired anime films for a while.
- StarzEncore Black: Similar to Starz inBlack, but also carries black-oriented TV series like Amen; previously was True Stories, then Encore Drama, focusing on dramatic pictures and documentaries.
- StarzEncore Classic: Show classic films that once ran on the actual Encore; also carries some older TV series like Night Court. Was originally Love Stories, then Encore Romance.
- StarzEncore Espanol: The newest of the multiplex, launched in 2011 as a straight simulcast of the main Encore feed, but became separate in 2013 (much like HBO Latino), showing Spanish-language movies.
- StarzEncore Family: Similar to Starz Kids & Family, but also aired a variety of anime (up to a TV-14 rating) such as Vandread and Samurai Deeper Kyo in a section known as "The Block" until 2008. Was originally titled WAM! America's Kidz Network (WAM! standing for "What Adults are Missing"), then Encore Wam.
- StarzEncore Suspense: Thrillers and such. Used to be (Encore) Mystery.
- StarzEncore Westerns: The main place for Western movies and series.
The MoviePlex networks include:
- IndiePlex: Similar to Starz Cinema.
- RetroPlex: Similar to Encore Classic.
The reason the MoviePlex channels somewhat mirror some of the Starz and Encore channels is because MoviePlex was initially Encore's "sampler service". Since most cable systems didn't carry the Encore Multiplex at first due to limited channel capacity, MoviePlex was created to fill the void (taking over from another Liberty network called TV! Network that showed blocks of programming from other cable nets), or it could serve as a "demo" for interested cable subscribers. Each day, the programming would be a mirror of either Encore or one of the multiplex nets; R-rated material would be removed from the rotation. It retained this format well into the 2000s, when everybody carried both Starz and Encore networks and the format no longer made sense. 2006 saw the dropping of the format and transition into a standard movie channel, plus the launches of IndiePlex and RetroPlex.
Nowadays, Starz is entrenched as the third major premium network, with Encore now being the secondary service, and MoviePlex being the tertiary service. In comparison to its rivals, who now tend to focus on original series, Starz continues with movies as the primary focus.
Perhaps in reflection of this, they have also tried expanding beyond premium TV into animation (Film Roman & Manga Entertainment), and video distribution (Anchor Bay Entertainment, which holds the video rights to many cult titles from companies like New World Pictures). Most of their ventures haven't done so well. They tried their hand at theatrical distribution with Overture Films, but it was ultimately shut down in 2011. Manga Entertainment's American operation stopped the same year, and Film Roman was sold off in 2015 (though Starz continues to own the library up to that point).
2016 saw, in a touch of Irony, the Encore networks rebranded under the Starz umbrella as StarzEncore. The main Starz networks also saw a rebrand at the same time, with a new slogan: "Obsessable", referring to people going crazy over their favorite TV series.
The biggest news came in 2016, when Lionsgate announced they were to acquire the company for $4,4 billion. Lionsgate's previous premium TV attempt, Epix, was formed in 2009 by Lionsgate, MGM and Paramount after pulling their films from Showtime, but it hasn't seen much success (Comcast and DirecTV outright refused to carry the Epix networks at launch). More recently, Starz decided to do what HBO had done and launch a standalone streaming service; but as a result, Comcast subscribers can't use their login info to access their new service. In 2017, MGM would buy Lionsgate and Viacom's stake in Epix for $1.03 billion.
Original series from Starz:
- American Gods (2017)
- Ash vs. Evil Dead
- Blunt Talk
- Dan Vs. note
- Da Vinci's Demons
- The Spanish Princess
- Spartacus: Blood and Sand
- Torchwood: Miracle Day
- The White Princess