“Power” has just been renewed for a second season by Starz. While it certainly wasn’t brought back by popular demand — critics weren’t that into it and week one viewership was so-so, pending Live+7 stats — the renewal came as no surprise to anyone familiar with the premium cable network’s history.
“Da Vinci’s Demons” was also renewed the Wednesday after its season one premiere, and four other original programs — “Magic City,” “Boss,” “Black Sails,” and “Spartacus” — were all renewed before their debut. Starz has a habit of keeping the shows it creates. All three of its current shows already have the green light for next season.
It’s important to note pay cable networks like Starz and HBO don’t rely on ratings when deciding whether or not to renew a show. They matter, but to a far lesser extent than with broadcast networks because Starz makes it money off of subscriptions and NBC, for example, pays the bills — at least in part — from ad sales. Starz doesn’t need a huge number of viewers right away — they need new subscribers. One person may pay their monthly fees in order to watch “Black Sails” and not even consider turning on “Power” (which seems to be what happened, considering “Power” pulled only 1.27 million in three airings Saturday night). That’s fine. Starz makes the same amount of money either way.
While there are obviously benefits to having a hit show, “Power” was most likely renewed because it hit a demographic unique to Starz current viewership, providing opportunities to expand its subscriber base in that area. It scored the youngest demographic for the network in almost 18 months and found a nearly even split in male and female viewers (45 percent women, 18 & up). “Black Sails” and “Da Vinci’s Demons” both skew toward men, making “Power” a valuable commodity — and that’s without mentioning the ethnic diversity it obviously brings to the very white programming schedule (and I’m not just talking about “The White Queen”).
But is that really enough when their direct competition offers both demographic appeal and addictive programming? Speaking strictly to original series (not miniseries), the buzz around “Power” — online and off — is much less than Showtime’s “Penny Dreadful” or HBO’s “True Detective,” the other pay cable network’s newest original shows. Those hit key demographics and draw new subscribers simply by eliciting a response. They’re exciting, bold, and range from “very good” to “great,” none of which can be said about a single Starz program (possibly since “Party Down”).
They’re also very binge-friendly — and I’m not talking about whatever Kyle Anderson over at Entertainment Weekly is describing when he calls “Power” “deeply bingeable.” HBO and Showtime license their shows — at least some of them — to Netflix and Amazon. Anyone curious about “Dexter” was able to discover it after its first, second, and third seasons via Netflix (same for “Californication”), and HBO just recently announced a deal to air some of its shows on Amazon Prime. They’re going to hook viewers and lure in new subscribers who can’t wait to find out what happens next.
Starz doesn’t offer a similar option for current programming. Ever since they mucked up the Netflix release of “Party Down” by airing episodes too quickly after they premiered (episodes were made available shortly after airing via Starz Play on Netflix, which, to some subscribers, meant there was no need to buy a Starz subscription) and then deleting season two entirely (a problem for fans wanting to start from the beginning, though a standard practice at the time), the pay cable network hasn’t tried to provide streaming content via a major platform for its original programs while they’re still on the air.
Its shows are available to stream via Starz Play on various players and platforms (like Comcast Xfinity On Demand), but only to subscribers). Another more minor issue, though also standard practice within the industry, is that fans can buy seasons online that have already been released on DVD and Blu-ray, but the first season of “Da Vinci’s Demons” isn’t available on Netflix or Amazon and “Black Sails,” after airing in February, isn’t even available to purchase past episode one (yet).
Though the premiere episode of “Power” was offered for free online before it aired via YouTube and various social media pages, one episode of a show like “Power” isn’t enough to engage people. They need to sit through two or three, at least, hoping to find a story that hooks them. One episode is disposable. Three could be addictive.
Overall, its a tough question for Starz: what’s the best way to expose new shows to viewers in a crowded marketplace? For now, Starz seems comfortable with the status quo, but I recommend they take some advice from one of their own movies, the Bennett Miller drama “Moneyball.” “Adapt or die.”
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story stated the first episode of “Power” was not available on YouTube for its launch. It was available.