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Starz won't let Netflix stream new episodes until 90 days later

Starting April 1, Starz will stop making episodes of its original series available on Netflix the day after they first air on TV. It may be worried that Netflix is turning into a competitor.

March 25, 2011|By Joe Flint and Ben Fritz, Los Angeles Times

Starz has joined the list of premium cable channels pulling away from Netflix.

Just two days after CBS' Showtime Networks said it would soon stop making its original series available to Netflix Inc.'s streaming service, Liberty Media's Starz, one of Netflix's longest-term and most important partners, is changing its policy as well.

Starting April 1, when its new drama "Camelot" premieres, Starz will no longer put episodes of its original series on Netflix the day after they first air on television. Starz will institute a 90-day delay before Netflix subscribers can watch the shows via the Internet.

Starz's new policy also applies to online streaming services operated by Qwest and Verizon, but the move seems primarily aimed at Netflix.

The pay channel also said that it eventually would institute a similar delay on movies it carries. Starz currently provides movies from Sony Pictures and Walt Disney Studios to Netflix.

Netflix spokesman Steve Swasey said that under the company's existing agreement with Starz, "movies are not impacted and contractually cannot be delayed."

Starz's deal with Netflix expires early next year. How and whether it will be renewed have been looming questions for both companies. Starz appears to be laying down a marker that, even if the contract is renewed, it will no longer provide its films as quickly to Netflix.

The move to hold back original shows indicates that Starz may be growing concerned that providing content to Netflix too quickly could discourage consumers from subscribing to the cable channel.

Past seasons of Starz original series such as "Spartacus" will continue to be available on Netflix.

Netflix's Swasey called the change regarding television shows "evolutionary" and said it wouldn't significantly affect his company. "We value completeness more than freshness," he said.

Several movie studios reached deals that include a 28-day delay after a movie's release on DVD before Netflix can send the DVD to subscribers.

Starz's announcement reflects a growing concern among many in Hollywood that Netflix is turning from a partner into a competitor.

With more than 20 million subscribers, many of whom stream its library of movies and programs onto Internet-connected televisions, Netflix has become something like a premium channel that exists outside the normal cable subscription universe. Showtime's and Starz's larger competitor, Time Warner Inc.'s HBO, has consistently withheld its movies and television shows from Netflix for just that reason.

Looking to capitalize on its rapid growth, Netflix recently announced plans to get into original programming and struck a deal to become home for a political drama series starring Kevin Spacey called "House of Cards."

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