After Starting Streaming Race, Starz Now Lags Behind HBO And Showtime

The evolution of premium cable TV beyond the living room took another step this week, with Showtime introducing a streaming app to rival HBO Go. Missing, however, was a similar view-on-any-device announcement from Starz, the network that kick-started pay-cable’s entry into the streaming realm when it launched its Vongo movies-on-demand service and later cut a deal with Netflix (NSDQ: NFLX).

Speaking at an investor event conducted by parent company Liberty Media (NSDQ: LINTA) in November — just after Starz announced that its agreement with Netflix would end in February — Chris Albrecht, the pay network’s CEO, said an “authentication app” similar to HBO Go would be announced sometime in 2012.

A Starz representative would not comment regarding a timeline for the release of such a product, which would allow Starz subscribers to view the network’s shows on any device by logging in with a username and password registered with the video provider.

With its Netflix deal to stream archival Starz original series episodes and licensed movies due to end next month, Starz — the third biggest pay-cable provider — now finds itself playing catch-up in the technological race it began.

While many expected Starz to make an announcement at CES this week, it was Showtime that stepped up and answered HBO’s volley, touting a new iPad application that allows its subscribers at participating distributors to watch more than 400 hours of the network’s programming on their tablets.

Showtime officials said the app will be in the Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) iTunes store sometime in early 2012, with access for subscribers of AT&T’s U-Verse and Verizon’s FiOS carrier services. Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) subscribers, meanwhile, will get Showtime Anytime through the carrier’s Xfinity TV service. The network says more distribution deals are in the pipeline.

Meanwhile, HBO Go — and its Cinemax-based Max Go sibling — are rolling out now on Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) system. And with that, Go is now available to 98 percent of the pay network’s subscribers. Cablevision (NYSE: CVC) will be the last MSO to launch the Go service, and that should happen sometime in the first quarter, an HBO rep told paidContent Wednesday.

That leaves Starz, traditionally one of the more innovative networks in regard to on-demand technologies.

Predating its arrangement with Netflix, Starz had established Vongo, a movie-rental download service that at one point offered more than 1,500 titles for an additional subscription fee. Although Vongo no longer exists, Starz still supports online downloads of its content through carriers including Verizon FiOS, *AT&T* U-Verse and Comcast Xfinity.

Starz was also the first premium cable provider to participate in Comcast’s on-demand trials in 2009, making more than 300 movies and a number of original series available to the 5,000 subscribers in the trial.