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Showtime to Blitz on Tudors Free Views

Showtime Networks is amassing a small army of at least 18 partners to blast out free views of the first two episodes of original series The Tudors on cable video-on-demand services and Internet sites.

CEO Matt Blank said it’s the biggest promotional push the network has ever done, although he declined to put a dollar figure on the campaign.

“There’s a tremendous marketing challenge whenever we launch a new show to get it in front of potential viewers,” he said. “It’s a lot different than if we had 110 million television households. So we need to be a little bit more aggressive to get our programming sample in front of people.”

Showtime has about 14 million subscribers, one-half of HBO’s 29 million.

The network is spending an estimated $25 million on the 10-episode Tudors, which stars Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as a petulant, sexually avaricious Henry VIII and imagines the earliest years of the 16th century king’s reign.

On March 19 -- two weeks before the show’s April 1 premiere on the network -- the two Tudors episodes will be available via free VOD on Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, Cablevision Systems, Mediacom Communications, Atlantic Broadband, Bright House Networks, RCN and other operators.

At the same time, Internet users will be able to watch them via streaming video at’s Internet Movie Database -- the first time that site has ever streamed a full-length episode of a TV show -- as well as Netflix’s Watch Now, Yahoo, Microsoft’s MSN, CBS’ Innertube, Brightcove, CNET Networks’ and

Both episodes will also be streamed from the sites of Showtime affiliates AT&T’s U-verse TV, Atlantic Broadband, Cablevision, Charter Communications, Comcast and RCN.

At Showtime’s own site, hand-picked bloggers and other VIPs will get access to streaming episodes March 12.

And beginning March 20, Blockbuster will offer its Total Access rent-by-mail customers an exclusive DVD sampler with the show’sfirst three episodes.

Finally, Showtime is negotiating deals with movie-download sites to offer copy-protected versions of the two episodes that would be viewable only until April 8. At press time, the network said it had not officially landed a download partner.

The heavy buzz-building play is, obviously, supposed to titillate nonsubscribers enough to get them to pay for Showtime.

“This show really plays like a soap,” Blank said. “We wanted to get people as hooked as we can.”