Starz Plays it Smart With ‘Outlander’

An August series premiere for “Outlander” should help Starz fill the summer programming vacuum while benefiting from buzz at San Diego Comic-Con.

May 14, 2014 at 8:08AM
Outlander Key Art

Outlander premieres Aug. 9 on Starz. Credit; Starz.

Fans will have to wait just a bit longer for Outlander. In a press release issued this week, Starz (NASDAQ:STRZA) set Aug. 9 as the premiere date for its original sci-fi series adapted from author Diana Gabaldon's popular book series.

Investors should love this move for two reasons.

First, early August is a funny time for original TV programming. Networks haven't yet screened their big fall bets while July's big cable and streaming premieres will have faded. Outlander could reach those looking for new programming but who haven't read Gabaldon's novels.

Second, the premiere comes on the heels of San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC). You can bet that Starz brass, as well as the cast and executive producer Ron Moore, will be on hand to show off what they have and promote the show. Both The CW's Arrow and Walt Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Agents of SHIELD benefited from strong buzz during last year's SDCC.

For Starz, the stakes are higher this year. Its other high-profile original -- pirate drama Black Sails -- has yet to break 1 million live U.S. viewers. Disappointing for a network that reported 21.9 million subscribers in the first quarter, up 1.4% year-over-year. Network revenue improved 3% over the same period. By contrast, AMC Networks (NASDAQ:AMCX) saw revenue grow 37% in the first quarter. HBO enjoyed a 9% revenue boost, including an 8% gain in subscription-related revenue.

So even if Starz is doing OK with what it has, the network isn't keeping pace with its larger peers. That won't change until the network convinces more viewers it has content they can't find anywhere else. Outlander is part of that effort.

Can it outperform Black Sails? That's tougher to tell. The show has about 130,000 fans on Facebook as of this writing. Another 437,000 have tuned in to the "first look" trailer since it went live in January. Surely we can trace a portion of that total to the 25 million copies Gabaldon has sold since publishing Outlander in 1991. Her latest title, Written in My Own Heart's Blood, arrives on June 10 -- just in time to help Starz promote the TV adaptation. Add it up, and I think Outlander has the ingredients to draw AMC or HBO-like numbers for an original series.

Now it's your turn to weigh in. How do you evaluate the prospects for Outlander? Watch the latest  trailer and then leave your take below, including whether you would buy, sell, or short Starz stock at current prices.

Outlander stars Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall, lost in time and split between two loves. Sources: YouTube, Starz.

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Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission. He owned shares of Walt Disney at the time of publication. Check out Tim's web home and portfolio holdings or connect with him on Google+Tumblr, or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.

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