Multiplatform TV: Showtime's Blank Likes Business Model

New Platforms Mean New Ways To Watch Showtime, Chief Says

“We see that the impact of multiplatform on our business is incremental – incremental to the extreme,” Matt Blank, chairman and CEO of Showtime Networks, said Wednesday, giving the lead keynote at a conference on that very topic.

Blank gave an example. When Dexter, the drama series about a forensic scientist who's also serial killer targeting deserving victims, premiered in 2006, subscribers viewed episodes live on Showtime about 70%-75% of the time. When the show ended last September, after eight seasons on the air, about 70%-75% of viewing was being done on a delayed basis, Blank said. And in that final season, ratings were 300% of what they were in season one, he said.

“That’s the graph you want to carry with you everywhere you go when you talk about this,” he told Multichannel News editor in chief Mark Robichaux at The Business of Multiplatform TV. “These are enabling technologies, and they’re particularly enabling when you have something you really want to see and a brand that’s really strong, like Showtime at the moment.”

Showtime owns Dexter, and Blank said the revenue the show earned from home video, international sales and streaming after its run ended was “a gigantic number” that “adds tremendous value to Showtime as a company going forward, long after Dexter has run its very successful eight years.”

That’s why owning content is important. But Showtime does not own the CIA drama Homeland, a signature show that comes from Fox 21. “I don’t think anyone would say they’d pass up the opportunity to have Homeland” on their network just because another studio owns it, he said.

Showtime has a record of marketing shows well and keeping them on the air for multiple seasons, he said, naming long runners Weeds and Nurse Jackie (both from Lionsgate) among them. “That now gives us more bargaining power” to say to a studio, for example, that Showtime will greenlight a show but also take an ownership stake in it.

“As we go forward, you’re going to see us participating or owning outright most of what we put on the air in terms of our scripted series,” he said.

Blank was asked several times about the impact of competition from services such as Netflix. He said he once used the term “frenemies” when he was arguing with Netflix chief Reed Hastings, a term Hastings has also embraced. Streaming services can compete with premium channels for subscribers, and they pay content owners (including Showtime) for the right to stream their shows later.

The more new distributors that come along, the better it is for strongly branded providers that have great content, Blank said. It will be interesting to see what new businesses are created when something like AT&T and DirecTV's proposed combination comes about and creates a big platform that could inspire new ideas, he said, adding that some new entrants to the world of TV could be friends or rivals to Showtime.

CBS-owned Showtime likes its current business model, tied in with multichannel providers, Blank said. “We’re still growing,” he said.

"New distributors are always important to us," he said.  The addition of satellite and telco TV platforms were big pluses to Showtime. "New opportunities present themselves and we've been very effective in taking advantage of those opportunities historically. I think we'll be successful taking advantage of whatever new people knock on our door at some point in time."

Some people are misinformed about trends and see them as worrying, he said. There are concerns about “millennials,” or younger consumers, tuning out, but millennials watch 100 hours of television per month, he said.

The often-heard complaints about the difficulties of extending TV subscriptions to other platforms and devices via authentication is a real problem, though. It needs to get easier, to the point where people don’t realize they are doing anything at all to get “authenticated.” He told a story about talking to one of the pay-TV providers serving his home, trying to get the Showtime Anywhere app to work for him, and being asked to read a number on the back of his modem – except he was 100 miles from home and isn’t avoiding that kind of hassle the point of “TV everywhere.”

Apple, he said, set the bar high for technology being ready to use right out of the box, and that’s the model TV everywhere should follow.

The conference, at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City, was put on by Multichannel News, Broadcasting & Cable and TV Technology magazines, owned by NewBay Media.