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Comcast keeps Starz in TV packages as negotiations continue

The Philadelphia-based company had planned to remove Starz from all packages and drop 11 Starz and Encore channels on Dec. 10. Now it will be available at least until Dec. 31. .

Comcast sign atop a building in Orlando, Fla. (Manuel Machado/Dreamstime/TNS)
Comcast sign atop a building in Orlando, Fla. (Manuel Machado/Dreamstime/TNS)Read moreManuel Machado / MCT

Comcast customers can see Starz for a little longer, as the cable giant has decided to keep the premium channel in its TV packages until at least the end of the month.

The Philadelphia-based company had planned to remove Starz from all packages on Tuesday as it battles the network over how much Comcast pays to carry Starz content. On Monday, Comcast said it is still in talks with Starz and would not dump the main channel just yet, but still plans to drop 11 of 17 Starz and Encore channels on Tuesday.

“We are still negotiating to try to reach a deal with Starz that makes sense for us and our customers,” Comcast spokesperson John Demming said. “Starz and [some] StarzEncore content will remain in customer packages until the end of the month under our current agreement.”

A Starz spokesperson declined to comment.

Under the initial plan, Comcast was to remove Starz from existing packages on Tuesday, so customers with those packages would have to pay $12 more a month to keep Starz, which includes popular shows such as Outlander and Power. Now, customers can still watch Starz for no additional charge until Dec. 31, when Comcast’s deal with the channel expires.

The contentious fee dispute has drawn the attention of lawmakers, including a U.S. senator who asked the U.S. Department of Justice to ensure fair competition in the marketplace, and sparked small protests outside Comcast’s headquarters. Starz launched an advertising campaign urging customers to call Comcast and complain.

Content makers typically ask distributors such as Comcast to pay more to carry their TV channels, while distributors try to keep costs low to compete with cheaper streaming options such as Netflix, Hulu, and Sling TV. The fee disputes have become more contentious in recent years as consumers have more options to access programming.

Comcast has said it wants to offer Starz as a direct-to-consumer subscription service instead of bundling. Doing this would allow customers who want Starz to subscribe without forcing others to pay for it, Comcast has said. The cable giant has noted that Starz allows its content to be sold a la carte through Amazon Prime, Roku, and its own app for $8.99.

“All we are asking for is the same treatment for our customers,” Comcast said in an October statement.

Lionsgate, Starz’s parent company, has said it is beneficial for Starz to be in a premium package that has millions of subscribers, even if the per-subscriber rate is lower. Comcast has roughly 21 million video subscribers and could make up roughly 40% of Starz’s customer base, according to estimates from Evercore ISI, a New York-based investment adviser.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) wrote to Makan Delrahim, the assistant attorney general for the antitrust division, asking him to evaluate the situation and “take whatever action is appropriate to ensure full and fair competition in this marketplace."

"These changes could lessen competition in the video programming market and limit choices for many thousands of consumers in Maine, and millions more across the nation,” she wrote in the September letter.

City councils in Baltimore and Washington have also passed resolutions expressing concern over Comcast’s plan to dump Starz.