Starz review: The price is right to Power binge originals, movies

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You probably know Starz best as a premium cable channel like Cinemax or Showtime, but the network is leaning hard into streaming too. Starz has invested heavily in its original programming slate with the ever-expanding Power universe and series such as Hightown. That strategy has paid off with audiences. Fans — including me — enjoy P-Valley (which holds a 100% rating with Rotten Tomatoes critics), year-round Power spinoffs and the critically acclaimed Outlander. 

Power and BMF executive producer 50 Cent never misses an opportunity to instruct viewers to “Get the app!” The app he’s talking about launched in 2016 and doesn’t require a cable subscription. Starz reported that its streaming customers shot up to 18 million by the end of 2021, reflecting a 40% jump from year to year.

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While Starz may not have a large stable of content like Netflix and Hulu, the company recently made moves to compete with the big dogs. It’s the exclusive streaming home of Sony’s Spider-Man: No Way Home, expected later this year, and it’s locked in a deal with Universal to air films following their theatrical releases. You can count on it to stream major features including Jurassic World: Dominion, The 355, Ambulance and Jennifer Lopez’s Marry Me.

But why should you follow 50 Cent’s advice and download the app, let alone subscribe for $9 a month? For one thing, it’s a low price for a service with Starz’s selection and no commercials interrupting what you watch. The network also stands apart by promoting diversity and representation in its originals, elevating the voices of women and people of color. This approach contributes to its growing subscriber base and makes Starz an intriguing alternative to its better-known rivals, especially after the latest Netflix price hike.

Starz streaming app vs. Starz cable channels

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The Starz standalone app is available for $9 a month. However, there are two Starz premium cable options: Starz and Starz Encore, a suite of niche content. Sometimes they’re both included as part of a bundle. Other times, they’re sold separately. Starz Encore is mostly new theatrical releases and ’70s films.

If you pay for the Starz channel through a cable or satellite TV provider or as an add-on to a streaming service such as Hulu, you can sign in to the Starz app at no additional charge. All of Starz’s content is available on the app, but note that Xfinity prohibits its subscribers from using the app.

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DirecTV Stream offers Starz as a premium channel (with app access) for $11 a month, while most other providers charge $9 monthly. Unlike HBO Max, for example, the Starz app doesn’t have multiple price tiers. Instead, the streaming service offers a single flat rate for its ad-free content, with no option to pay less if you watch ads.

Starz review: The price is right to Power binge originals, movies
© Provided by CNET Outlander with Sophie Skelton, Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan. Starz

To save a little money, you can subscribe to a three-month plan for $20 or a six-month package for $44, which knock off $7 and $10, respectively, over paying monthly. There’s a standard seven-day free trial for new users, but you can keep your eyes peeled for special promotions.

The Starz catalog includes films and flagship originals

Starz has more than 800 movies and 80 television shows in its catalog. Viewers can take in all of its originals on the app, including popular series such as P-Valley, award-winning Outlander, Heels, The White Queen, American Gods, BMF, Black Sails, Ash Vs. Evil Dead, Blindspotting and the Power franchise. Once upon a time Power was the number two show on cable after Game of Thrones, bringing in an average audience of roughly 8 million, according to Deadline. 

Like its streaming competitors, Starz rotates its film selection based on licensing agreements, so some titles are only available for a limited time. Film choices include every Saw installment — including Spiral, starring Chris Rock — along with Here Today (starring Billy Crystal and Tiffany Haddish), Inglourious Basterds, Forrest Gump, Iron Man 3 and Johnny Depp’s City of Lies. 

Starz review: The price is right to Power binge originals, movies
© Provided by CNET Starz’s Power content displayed on screen. Sarah Tew/CNET

The new Universal agreement also opens the gates to titles from Blumhouse, Focus Features, plus select movies in the Universal Filmed Entertainment Group library including the Despicable Me and Minions films. The deal affects theatrical releases in 2022 and beyond, enabling Starz to broadcast the studio’s big titles exclusively approximately 18 months after their release dates. 

Upcoming projects include a greenlit second season of Men in Kilts: A Roadtrip with Sam and Graham, the 50 Cent-produced Queen Nzinga, a John Wick prequel series and a BMF documentary. But Starz is currently gearing up to release the highly anticipated Power Book IV: Force in February. It’ll also launch Courteney Cox’s Shining Vale, a new dark comedy with a horror slant that lands in March.

Starz’s president of domestic networks Alison Hoffman told CNET that much of the brand’s success can be attributed to its lineup of diverse content. With women and people of color helming many of the network’s series, the company prides itself on listening to its audience, casts and showrunners by telling stories that may not be represented elsewhere. Additionally, Hoffman shared that Starz is focused on beefing up its original programming slate in the coming year.  

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Starz app offers early access to new episodes

One of the most appealing qualities about streaming via the Starz app is its early release schedule. New episodes of original shows like Power Book II: Ghost, The Girlfriend Experience and Outlander drop at midnight ET on the day of their air dates, hours before their live premieres on cable. West Coast residents can watch at 9 p.m. PT on a Saturday night. You can watch new episodes as often as you’d like before the live release and then afterward on demand. 

How does the app perform?

Starz’s interface is user-friendly with neatly organized categories based on genre, originals, previous viewing habits, popularity, special themes or release date. You can also browse movies and series based on alphabetical order, year or your favorite cast members. Starz allows you to click on actors’ names for a list of their roles in other projects streaming on the service. Occasionally, the app will automatically recommend “cast picks” connected to who and what you watched.

When filtering a search, there’s also an option to choose content based on run time, which ranges from under 20 minutes to over 60 minutes. That includes kid-friendly fare. Like Netflix, Hulu and HBO Max, the Starz app gives you the ability to create personal watchlists and up to five user profiles. It also allows four simultaneous streams on any screen. Another plus? You can download as much as you want to kill time when all you have is your phone. Lunch breaks and travel don’t have to be boring.

With that in mind, your screen size won’t matter when watching movies. One of the downsides of the app is that Starz resizes the aspect ratio for movies. That means if a film was originally shot with letterboxes and a widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1, Starz sometimes crops it to fill up your entire screen. That makes some movies look distorted. Also, the company logo lurks on the screen during films, which can be a minor annoyance.

Starz review: The price is right to Power binge originals, movies
© Provided by CNET Starz on an iPad. Sarah Tew/CNET

I tried the app on an Android phone and while the sound and picture quality is great, I noticed that playback is sometimes choppy where the video plays at a sped-up pace and throws off its sync. Occasionally, there’s a lag with the rewind and fast-forward feature. Additionally, when using an iPad, if you pause a show for what may seem like too long, when you return, the episode starts over. You have to manually fast forward or rewind. Other Android and iOS users have reported similar issues.

The auto-play feature kicks in at the end of every movie or TV show, but you can disable it in the app’s settings. Within that menu, users can also choose between medium or high quality for downloads or adjust the parental controls on each profile. For playback, Starz allows you to select English or Spanish for audio language or subtitles. It also has picture-in-picture capability, which enables you to watch two videos at the same time, even if one is on another app.

Starz offers value for $9

When compared to its competitors Prime Video, HBO Max, Disney Plus and Showtime, the Starz app is on the lower end of the price spectrum. Disney Plus is $8, Prime Video costs $9, HBO Max clocks in at $10 a month while Showtime costs $11 with similar offerings. While Starz’s catalog may not be as expansive as the other streaming services, it’s growing and its exclusive prestige originals make it a viable choice.

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