Starz pulls back the curtain on streaming video vendors, operations

BOSTON -- Premium cable channel Starz announced in April that it will offer its content directly to consumers through a Starz-branded app, joining the likes of Showtime and HBO in charging users a monthly fee for a streaming video service. And the company is primarily leveraging its own team of around 30 developers to offer the service, as well as vendors Deluxe OnDemand and Penthera.

Ray Milius, the company's EVP of programming and operations, said that Starz in April also reworked its approach to the streaming market to reduce the number of apps it needed to maintain -- from three to one. The company previously offered its TV Everywhere content through its Starz Encore, Starz Play and Movieplex apps, but combined all those apps into one -- Starz -- in April to cut down on its app-management workload.

"It was a royal pain" to maintain three apps, Milius said here in the sidelines of the INTX show. "We're [now] doing it all in one app."

Milius said that Starz's internal team of 30 developers created the company's new iOS and Android apps, and will also be mostly responsible for expanding the company's service to other devices including the Roku and the Xbox. He said Deluxe OnDemand handles the company's CDN and transcoding work; Starz previously handled its own transcoding functions but "it was rather arduous" and so the company began outsourcing that effort to Deluxe OnDemand around a year ago.

Milius said Penthera supplies the content-downloading capability on Starz's new app. Penthera also supports the content-downloading function on the TV Everywhere services from Comcast, Charter Communications and others, allowing customers to download movies and TVs shows for offline viewing. Milius added that Starz's content licensing rights cover offline viewing for most of the content on its service -- "we've crossed that bridge with most of our content partners," he said.

As for Starz's content-packaging system -- the platform the company uses to obtain, ingest, store, prepare and deliver the video it creates -- Milius said Starz developed that internally. "We do thousands of pieces of content every week," he said.

However, Milius said the company's system is aging and somewhat difficult to maintain, and every year Starz executives discuss the possibility of moving away from its internally developed platform in favor of one from the many third-party vendors that sell such products. "There are a number of solutions available now in the marketplace," he said, but noted the company hasn't yet decided whether to replace its system.

But Starz is in the process of replacing the platform it uses to handle content rights management, scheduling and other backend content management functions. He said the company developed its own backend system roughly 20 years ago, but decided to replace it with a platform from SintecMedia. "We're in the process of replacing it right now," Milius said.

He said Starz embarked on the replacement process with SintecMedia roughly three years ago, and expects to complete the process in July -- a timeframe that Milius comes as little surprise due to the complexity of the systems involved.

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Article updated May 19 to correct information about Penthera.