See Jane Spotlight

Starz Commitment to Inclusive Storytelling Lights Up Opportunities

Credit: Starz

By Mary Ellen Holden

Inclusive storytelling focused on women, and other underrepresented groups have been a priority for Starz before becoming a media industry imperative in front of and behind the camera.

Earlier this year, Alison Hoffman, former Chief Marketing Officer of Starz, was promoted to a newly expanded position as President, Domestic Networks. I had the opportunity to sit down with Alison to learn more about their commitment to women and inclusion. During our interview, she revealed insights into their programming strategy and shared key filters that Starz applies when evaluating pitches for new series, specials, and other program development forms. Let’s take a look.

Mary Ellen: As a leading woman in media, please share your journey with us?

Alison Hoffman: My career has not been linear. I started in Management Consulting and found that it wasn’t feeding me creatively, so I transitioned to Brand Marketing and then to the Ad Agency side, where I learned about Account Planning and Strategy. From there, I landed an opportunity at AMC as Director of Marketing just as they were getting into originals. I had an amazing experience that brought me to Starz about eight and a half years ago, where my career took off. I assumed several other responsibilities. Early in 2020, I was promoted to President, Domestic Networks, where I am responsible for Marketing, Insights and Analytics, Programming Strategy and Planning, and Distribution, which carries revenue responsibility.

Mary Ellen: Marketing was a driver in developing Starz’s focus on diverse women and underrepresented groups; what was the “diversity aha moment” for you?

Alison: It was back in 2013, with an original series called The White Queen, based on a novel by Philippa Gregory. The showrunner was Emma Frost. When the show launched, it flipped Starz from a male-skewing to a female-skewing network. It woke us up to the opportunity to program for women. Outlander followed, and then Power launched – both had audiences heavily comprised of women. About five years ago, we started to double down on narratives by and about women. Once we made that commitment, the composition of the team’s leadership began to shift.

Today, according to Nielsen, Starz has the most extensive composition of women and African American female audiences on premium television.

Women decide whether or not to add Starz to their viewing portfolio. And, women at Starz are leading the charge. Currently, 75% of our C-suite is women, and 40% are women of color. And almost 70% of Starz showrunners are women, one-third of which are women of color.

Mary Ellen: How has the pandemic impacted Starz?

Alison: During the pandemic, people have more available time, and they’re looking for more to watch. People are turning to streaming in droves, and we’ve seen a lot of growth with our new series like P-Valley and our first spinoff in our Power Universe franchise: Power Book II: GHOST. They are also catching up on series in anticipation of sequels. For example, millions of viewers watched the entire first seasons of The Spanish Princess and Power in anticipation of new programming. We just reported our Second Quarter earnings, and we added a record 1.8 million streaming subscribers, bringing our total from 7.4 million to 9.2 million over three months during the pandemic.

Mary Ellen: How does your mission align with the Institute?

Alison: Our philosophy that representation matters aligns perfectly with the Institute’s “If She Can See It, She Can Be It” motto. We embody the philosophy from your research to our work. We put women in charge of our productions and our storytelling, which opens a path to the growth of diverse voices. Our See Jane Influencer panel for The Spanish Princess is an excellent example of how compatible our messaging is. Our diverse female talent shared stories of friendship and empowerment.

We look forward to growing our relationship with Madeline and the Institute.

Mary Ellen: What’s next?

Alison: In the next six months, we are excited about launching the next installment of The Girlfriend Experience and the premiere of a new comedy series called Run the World. Both shows have women showrunners and star women in the leading role. We just announced a new series focused on extraordinary women in history. The first is Eleanor of Aquitaine. While rooted in history, this series will feature well-rounded characters, full of flaws and vulnerabilities, not just icons. The characters feel authentic and relatable. We will continue to deliver premium programming which audiences crave – with complex narratives and characters. We are developing universal stories that cross borders as we are in over 50 markets now.

Mary Ellen: What advice would you give to a young woman looking to enter this business?

Alison: Take a minute to figure out what you want to do. I had to feel my way through things and have experiences that didn’t fit. I would tell her that everything is a learning experience – as long as you keep moving forward and feel like you keep getting closer, you’re in good shape. Always assess what you’re doing to see if you feel in alignment or if something is missing.

Mary Ellen: What advice do you have for content creators who might be reading this article and are interested in pitching a project to Starz?

Alison: We have two primary filters that we apply to pick projects. 1) is it premium? And 2) does it have a strong appeal for women or underrepresented audiences? We have seen the most success when a project feels fresh. Ultimately, we want to share different points of view so more people can feel seen through our stories and characters.

IF SHE CAN SEE IT, SHE CAN BE IT