There has been turbulence in the lucrative premium cable sector, with key executive comings and goings as its primary players claw to create shows that viewers will buy a subscription for and that merit inclusion on ever-slimming bundles. Here’s how it looks for the big three pay cable networks.
HOT SHOWS: Game of Thrones, Girls, The Leftovers
STRENGTHS: It’s still HBO. Yes, the brand has been dinged up, but HBO remains the favorite for Emmy primacy and OTT sub viability.
WEAKNESSES:Vinyl was a very visible bust, and the future of True Detective is unclear. Premium cable is ultimately judged on its dramas, and HBO needs something to wear the crown after Game of Thrones exits.
OUTLOOK: So-so. Drama chief Michael Ellenberg departed early in the year, and programming president Michael Lombardo exited in May. Curb Your Enthusiasm is coming back for season 9; nearer-term are drama The Night Of, bowing July 10, and Westworld and Sarah Jessica Parker’s Divorce in the fall. HBO execs speak often of a 360 approach to programming—hit movies, smart docs, Vice news, comedic talkers. But without a hot scripted series, you’re cold.
HOT SHOWS: Billions, Ray Donovan, Homeland
STRENGTHS: The network has mega mojo right now, and a strong showing from Cameron Crowe’s new Roadies will only spike the buzzometer mercury. Homeland is renewed through season 8; Showtime execs are confident its producers can retain the tightrope tension for three more seasons.
WEAKNESSES: The end is here, or at least nigh, for Penny Dreadful, Episodes and House of Lies, leaving some holes in Showtime’s monthly premiere strategy.
OUTLOOK: Quite good. Masters of Sex, Shameless and The Affair have season premieres this fall. Come 2017, it’s Twin Peaks. David Nevins recently marked a year as CEO, and Gary Levine hits his one-year anniversary as programming president in November. Both are off to a strong start.
HOT SHOWS:Power, Outlander, The Girlfriend Experience
STRENGTHS: Six Golden Globe nominations were a vote of confidence for Starz’s bold originals strategy. Starz goes against its rivals’ Sunday big boys when Power and Survivor’s Remorse debut next month.
WEAKNESSES: Chief revenue officer Michael Thornton gave notice last week, and president Glenn Curtis retires July 1. The net’s deal for Disney movies ends next year. An independent in a consolidated world, Starz’s for sale/not for sale status may weigh on staffers.
OUTLOOK: Promising. Starz is aggressively marketing a new app playing up its “obsessable series” and “hit movies.” The originals brand, a mix of fantasy and art house and urban, is all over the map, but the momentum is clearly there.
Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.
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