Showtime Not ‘Kidding’ Around With Free Preview

Why This Matters: Networks have to get creative to help a new series stand out these days.

The Jim Carrey series Kidding debuted Sept. 9 on Showtime, but many viewers saw the premiere weeks before.

Kidding, which has Carrey as a children’s show host called Mr. Pickles whose life is falling apart, was offered early, to subscribers and nonsubscribers, when Showtime held its Free Preview Weekend Aug. 31 to Sept. 3. Some 71 million households got Showtime free that weekend.

The free sneak previews are an essential element in premiering an original series in the peak-TV era, said Laura Palmer, Showtime senior VP of distributor marketing. “With new shows in particular, it’s so crowded and cluttered, and hard to break through,” she said. “We feel like our content is the most effective way to sell what we’re offering.”

Showtime has offered series premieres to nonsubscribers for some time. SMILF was shared last October, two weeks before its linear premiere. Episodes one and two of Twin Peaks were shared on YouTube, and Facebook for a weekend in June 2017. Showtime did a three-week sneak peek for drama The Chi, starting in mid-December 2017. The thinking was, people are home for Christmas and many are getting new devices.

In season one of Billions, advanced sampling and a nonlinear preview led to the most nonlinear views for a Showtime series premiere.

Other premium networks are sharing their content with nonsubscribers, too. In August, HBO made the premiere of Random Acts of Flyness available to all via streaming, three days after its debut. Hulu gave Castle Rock a sneak peek on Apple TV in late July, two weeks before its premiere. Starz made Warriors of Liberty City available via its app and on-demand Sept. 9, a week before the linear premiere.

“It has become a tactic other networks use,” Palmer said.

In 2016, HBO and Cinemax staged a rare free preview weekend, including the season premieres of Game of Thrones, Veep and Silicon Valley, and Beyoncé’s Lemonade special.

Dominic Caristi, Ball State professor of telecommunications, said Showtime is smart to give Kidding to as many viewers as possible. “Showtime is trying to build its OTT product, and one way to make that happen is to get people to sample the programs,” he said. “Jim Carrey could be a big draw. It’s just another example of streamers trying to attract subscribers in a very competitive world.”

Showtime offers its Free Preview Weekend across one holiday weekend each year. Viewers can get a taste of Shameless, Ray Donovan, Homeland and other originals, and perhaps will see fit to pay for a subscription.

“We think it’s really important to use the great content we have to drive awareness for the network,” Palmer said.

Michael Malone

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.