Starz Pushes 50 Cent's Second Season of 'Power' Amid Network's Resurgence

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- In a steady drizzle outside the Best Buy (BBY) Theater in Times Square, fans wearing soggy shoes and rain gear gathered for an advance screening of Starz's (STRZA) original series Power. Nearby, well-heeled actors and executives stepped from their tour bus onto a warm carpet, soles never hitting the puddled pavement on their way into the theater.

Among them was Starz's CEO Chris Albrecht.

"There seems to be insatiable demand for these high-quality, premium shows, and now I think we're delivering as good a line up as anybody," Albrecht said.

Riding positive chatter on social media, Power nearly doubled its viewership over the course of its first season. The series premiered in June 2014 with just 462,000 viewers, but that number grew to 1.082 million in the first airing of its finale, according to Nielsen.

Albrecht is betting that the second season of Power, which debuts Saturday, June 6 will win the show even more fans -- and will provide Starz with the hungry new subscribers it needs to edge out competition for television and digital viewers.

Some observers say the stars at last appear aligned for the Colorado-based media and entertainment company. The stock has risen 38% so far this year, getting a boost from a stock-swap deal with Lions Gate Entertainment (LGF) in March.

Another recent deal could also benefit Starz. In May, Charter Communications (CHTR) announced its plans to acquire Time Warner Cable (TWC). Charter is effectively controlled by John Malone, Starz's largest voting shareholder.

Shows like Power, a drama that counts rapper Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson among its executive producers, could boost Starz's fortunes vs. rivals HBO, which is owned by Time Warner (TWX), and Showtime (SNI). 

In the first quarter of 2015, 24% of revenue at Starz came from its distribution division, which develops original programs. That's up 3 percentage points from the first quarter of 2014. Still, most revenue comes from pay television channels Starz and Encore. (A third division, animation, contributed less than 2% percent of revenue this quarter.)

At the same time, the space for original series is either expanding or becoming more crowded. Web-based firms Netflix (NFLX), Amazon (AMZN), Hulu and IAC/InterActive's  (IACI) Vimeo have each released original titles with varying degrees of success.

In August 2013, Netflix picked up Marco Polo, a program initially developed at Starz. Albrecht said its producers underestimated its price. 

"I thought I knew what it was going to cost and, indeed, that's what it ended up costing when they took it to Netflix," Albrecht said.

Instead of high-budget productions, the former HBO CEO said Starz has invested in less expensive shows pitched at specific demographic groups premium television often overlooks. Power attracted a strong African-American viewership, while Outlander, which also debuted in 2014, is popular among women.

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