Showtime Eyes Download Deliveries

Showtime may join its premium brethren Home Box Office and Starz on the Internet later this year as it explores offering downloads of such original content as Dexter.

The network is looking at launching an online complement to its Showtime premium channel and Showtime On Demand service sometime in 2008, Showtime Networks CEO Matt Blank told Multichannel News last week.

While he would not provide specific details for the service, he said that a broadband offering would serve as a “natural progression” for the 15-million subscriber Showtime service.

“You'll probably see something from us [online] later this year,” said Blank.

Last month, Home Box Office launched its HBO On Broadband service in Time Warner Cable's Wisconsin division, featuring more than 400 hours of Hollywood movies and original shows such as Entourage. Not known is whether Showtime will emulate HBO's model of offering its broadband service only within an affiliated system's local footprint.

HBO officials said it was too early to report usage figures regarding its HBO On Broadband service, which has just debuted in Wisconsin.

Starz offers its own fee-based broadband service, Vongo, which allows subscribers to download as many as 1,000 movies within the Starz pay-TV distribution window to their PCs. The $9.99-per-month subscription service also features new pay-per-view movie releases for 24-hour rental, at $3.99 per title.

Separately, on the premium side, Showtime has given the green light to pilots from producer Steven Spielberg and actor and director Tim Robbins. The United States of Tara, from Spielberg and DreamWorks, follows a mother who has to cope with a multiple-personality disorder. Meanwhile, the Robbins-penned pilot Possible Side Effects revolves around a troubled family that runs a pharmaceutical company, according to Showtime president of entertainment Robert Greenblatt, who spoke at a breakfast press meeting last Wednesday.

Greenblatt also announced the return of several signature shows. On June 16, Showtime will launch a Monday-night comedy block, with Weeds starting its fourth season. The drug-based comedy will be paired on Monday nights with a British import series Secret Diary of a Call Girl, according to Greenblatt.

On March 30, the The Tudors will return for its second season, along with the debut of the sketch comedy series Stateof The Union, starring comedian Tracey Ullman.

The network will also return its documentary series This American Life for a second season on May 4, according to Greenblatt.

The network's other signature series — Dexter, Brotherhood and Californication — will all return this fall, though neither Greenblatt nor Blank would confirm specific dates.

Blank also said he's not in a rush to renew movie distribution deals with Hollywood studios Paramount Pictures, Lionsgate and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, noting that the network's theatrical deals will keep top movie titles on the network through 2010.

While movies are an important part of the network, Blank said that Hollywood titles don't drive as much brand recognition and value to the network as Showtime original series like Dexter and The L Word.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.