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Starz may be getting ratings boost from Dish giveaway

April 7, 2011 | 10:54 am

In February, when Liberty Media's pay TV channel Starz offered its subscribers a preview of its new drama "Camelot," the household rating was 2.9, which translates to 658,000 homes.

In April when "Camelot" premiered its first episode, the rating was a 2.5. Smaller ratings would usually mean fewer households too, but in this case the number of households that watched that first episode was 865,000.

CAMELOT It was a similar story with viewers. The "Camelot" sneak had a 1.3 rating among total viewers, which equals 842,000 people. The official premiere a little over a month later, which was heavily promoted, had a lower rating in viewers, with a 1.2 rating in viewers, but 1.12 million people watching.

A contributing factor to the numbers growth may be a free giveaway of Starz from satellite broadcaster Dish Network to the bulk of its customers. Many of Dish's 14.1 million subscribers got a letter from Dish recently saying it was giving Starz away for a year. The larger universe of Starz subscribers means its total numbers could rise even as its ratings stay the same or decline.

Premium channels such as Starz usually are not big supporters of such giveaways, and a yearlong one is highly unusual. Interestingly, in a recent chat with analysts, Dish Network chief Charlie Ergen also didn't sound as though he was a fan of such gimmicks.

"We don't do a lot with promotional programming on premiums," Ergen said in February. "I don't like to give away my core business." 

Perhaps Ergen has a different attitude when it comes to Starz because of its cozy relationship with Netflix, which most distributors see as the enemy. Starz makes much of its content, including the movies it carries from Disney and Sony, available to Netflix at the same time it plays on the channel.

During the February analyst call, Ergen seemed to be calling Starz out on its ties to Netflix.

"So when you give away your basic package programming, that to me is not the most logical thing, but then we're not doing very well in the marketplace vis-à-vis some competitors so maybe I'm stupid," he said.

A Dish spokeswoman declined to comment on the extent of the Dish giveaway.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Eva Green stars as Morgan in Camelot. Credit: Karina Finegan/Associated Press.