Starz files emergency petition with FCC to restore Altice carriage

Chris Albrecht, Starz
Altice USA has engaged in "abusive customer practices," says Starz President and CEO Chris Albrecht. (Starz)

Premium cable programmer Starz filed another petition with the FCC this week, urging the agency to intervene in a carriage dispute that has seen 16 Starz, StarzEncore and MoviePlex premium channels blacked out on Altice USA’s Cablevision system Optimum since the turn of the new year. 

On Wednesday, Lions Gate-owned Starz filed an emergency petition for injunctive relief (PDF) with the FCC, following up on its Jan. 8 filing of a petition for declaratory ruling (PDF) with the agency.

“Since Cablevision dropped the Starz Channels, Starz understands that tens of thousands of irate subscribers have contacted Cablevision by telephone and email to express their anger over the deletion of the Starz Channels, to demand their reinstatement and/or to request refunds for the deleted services,” Starz said in its petition. “In fact, to date, Starz has forwarded to Cablevision over 49,000 calls and nearly 8,300 emails that it has received regarding the carriage of Starz, StarzEncore and MoviePlex on Cablevision. Starz understands that many of these subscribers have been unable to reach a Cablevision customer service representative. Specifically, callers have experienced unanswered and dropped calls, excessive wait times, unavailability of live customer service.”

RELATED: Altice says Starz's cease-and-desist claims are bogus

Announcing its petition to the press, Starz President and CEO Chris Albrecht added, “To our great disappointment, and to the disappointment of Altice customers, Starz and its affiliated channels continue to remain off the air in New York. This disruption has caused high-quality programming that promotes diversity in its production, talent and content, to be taken from viewers with no notice. More than that, Altice has continued a pattern of abusive consumer practices in avoiding the inquiries and complaints of its subscribers about the deletion.”

Among its claims, Starz says Altice took down its channels without giving customers a proper 30-day notice.

For its part, Altice continues to respond that Starz’ claims are “without merit.” Altice continues to hammer home the fact that Starz launched an a la carte streaming service following the negotiation of its last programming deal with Optimum.

“Given that Starz is available to all consumers directly through Starz' own over-the-top streaming service, we don't believe it makes sense to charge all of our customers for Starz programming, particularly when their viewership is declining and the majority of our customers don't watch Starz,” said Altice, in a statement emailed to Fierce by spokesperson Lisa Anselmo this morning. “We have offered and remain open to a deal with Starz to offer the content to customers who want it but they refuse.”

Altice added that it has launched “replacement channels” for the Starz networks, which include Hallmark Drama, Sony movies, MGM HD, HD Net Movies and Flix. 

Sources close to the negotiations say Altice is looking to distribute Starz the same a la carte way it does on its other recently acquired U.S. cable system, Suddenlink.