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Will "Black Sails" Help Starz Navigate TV's Choppy Waters?

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First, Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX  ) decided it wanted to HBO. Now, Starz (NASDAQ: STRZA  ) wants a piece of the action with an original program called Black Sails, due to air next January.

Starz pulled out the stops at San Diego Comic-Con with a large booth populated by a replica pirate ship meant to give visitors a feel for the show. Starz treated fans to a screening Thursday night during the con with music performed by show composer Bear McCreary, whose other credits include the reimagined Battlestar Galactica and The Walking Dead.

The show, set 20 years before Robert Louis Stevenson's classic book Treasure Island, focuses on pirates who face enemies all about as they fight to preserve a criminal haven known as New Providence Island. Executives no doubt hope the series and its dark undercurrent proves appealing to the tens of millions who have taken to Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead.

There's merit to the plan. Offbeat and edgy original programming has proved to be an attractive alternative to network TV fare in recent years. Black Sails fits the mold.

Starz also needs the help. Revenue growth has gone missing as debt has ballooned since 2011. Meanwhile, Netflix's sweeping deal with Walt Disney means the network won't have access to Marvel, Star Wars, and other popular properties come 2016. Executives have until then to develop a cost-effective portfolio of originals and licensed programs capable of igniting growth.

Unfortunately, there's no guarantee that original programming will pay off. Look at Netflix. For as good a draw as House of Cards was, the new Arrested Development failed to draw even a million new members. Netflix shares sold off as a result, and that's in spite of a significant earnings beat.

So while I'd love to believe Black Sails will take TV's treasure island, as an investor, I'd rather add Starz to my watchlist. Here's how you can do the same.

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Related Tickers

9/28/2016 4:00 PM
STRZA $31.52 Up +0.14 +0.45%
Starz CAPS Rating: ****
NFLX $97.48 Up +0.41 +0.42%
Netflix CAPS Rating: ***