Showtime Launches Affiliate Extranet

Showtime Networks Inc. today (July 8) plans to launch a new business-to-business extranet designed to act as a virtual business office for affiliates that want access to the premium programmer's marketing materials and schedules on a 24-hour basis.

The new site follows nearly 100 hours of in-the-field talks with affiliates over the past year. They were polled on their online marketing, engineering and customer-service support needs, Showtime director of online business services Dave Mitchell said.

"People work strange hours, and they're in different time zones," Mitchell said. "We don't want to presume people work just nine to five."

Mitchell's unofficial goal is to eliminate the need for fax machines and file cabinets by making materials available online that had been sent in hard-copy form in the past.

Prior to its launch, 50 affiliates tested the password-protected site ( Mitchell said he expects the company to send out over 10,000 ID codes and passwords this week, along with the registration kits.

Users will need to register each computer that will gain access to the site. Therefore, colleagues or business associates cannot share a password. Travelers can port their own codes from their desktops to their laptops or home computers, however.

Because each user has a secure password, Showtime can personalize each experience based on job function and company.

A marketing executive at Comcast Corp. will be able to pull up customized direct-mail pieces, for example, while a customer-service representative at Cox Communications Inc. would have access to different screens.

The extranet will link users directly to internal Showtime systems, so information is always current. CSRs will have up-to-the-minute programming schedules rather than a printed guide that may be out of date.

Through the site, a cable-operator engineer can turn on a new SNI channel from the system's headend, rather than faxing a request for activation.

The site will also include marketing slicks and programming schedules for the company's pay-per-view arm, Showtime Event Television.

When affiliates visit the site for the first time, Showtime executive vice president of sales and marketing Jeff Wade delivers a welcome from a video taken of Wade with his race car.

Although there's other video and imagery on the site, Mitchell insisted that "there aren't a lot of things that flash and twirl in this. We want it to load easily and be available to all our affiliates."