Comcast Gets Showtime’s Cell Early

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Showtime’s new drama series, Sleeper Cell, debuts Dec. 4, and if Comcast Corp. digital-cable subscribers stay up late, they can also catch episodes two and three on-demand.

The top U.S. MSO’s video-on-demand service will stream the second and third installments of Showtime’s terrorism-themed thriller to the pay service’s subscribers 24 hours before the premium-cable network delivers them to other pay TV providers -- part of a multiplatform deal between Showtime Networks Inc. and Comcast.

The arrangement -- which also includes a proprietary Internet-video package -- continues the Philadelphia-based MSO’s aggressive push for exclusive programming to help boost the value of its digital-cable and high-speed-Internet services.

Comcast’s Showtime On Demand offering will air the second and third episodes of Sleeper Cell at midnight Dec. 5, two hours after the premiere episode’s debut. Showtime’s linear network will air those episodes at 10 p.m. Dec. 5 and 6, respectively.

All Comcast on-demand customers -- even those who don’t subscribe to Showtime -- will have the opportunity to watch episode one beginning Dec. 5.

And Comcast will make the first episode available to all of its high-speed-Internet users as part of its “The Fan” Internet-video service, a component of its Comcast.net (www.comcast.net) portal.

Comcast’s broadband and on-demand platforms will also offer teaser programming, including promotional clips, three weeks before the show’s Showtime premiere.

Comcast On Demand vice president and general manager Page Thompson called the agreement a coup for the operator. Showtime’s subscription-VOD service -- which features original network content like comedy series Weeds and Barbershop: The Series -- has generated 50 million views to date, he said.

Comcast this year has struck similar VOD-broadband deals with such networks as Home Box Office, Noggin/The N and VH1 for exclusive premieres.

And Showtime has taken this promotional path before. In August, MSN Video (video.msn.com) streamed the premiere episode of Barbershop for eight straight days after its Aug. 14 debut. And in March, Showtime and Yahoo! Inc. (www.yahoo.com) simultaneously delivered the premiere episode of Showtime’s reality show Fat Actress.

For more on Showtime and Comcast, please see R. Thomas Umstead’s story on page six of Monday’s issue of Multichannel News.

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