UPDATED: Today’s announcement seems a little anticlimactic considering how long CBS chief Les Moonves has been talking about it. But now it’s official, and comes with details: The service, which doesn’t require a cable or satellite subscription, will be called Showtime — just like the channel. It will cost $10.99 a month, underpricing HBO Now at $14.99. And it will launch in early July, in time for the July 12 debut of the new seasons of Ray Donovan and Masters Of Sex.
It will initially just be available via Apple. But Showtime doesn’t have an exclusivity arrangement, like the one Apple had with HBO when it launched its standalone service in April, Showtime CEO Matt Blank tells me. Other distribution agreements for Showtime likely will follow soon. “We’re talking to everybody,” he says.
“Going over-the-top means Showtime will be much more accessible to tens of millions of potential new subscribers,” Moonves says. “Across CBS, we are constantly finding new ways to monetize our programming by capitalizing on opportunities presented by technology. This works best when you have outstanding premium content – like we do at Showtime – and when you have a terrific partner like Apple – which continues to innovate and build upon its loyal customer base.”
Apple’s Eddy Cue says that “iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Apple TV customers will now be able to subscribe to Showtime directly and instantly start viewing their favorite programming with the same simplicity as buying an app.”
Those who sign up through Apple in July can try it for free for 30 days.
In addition to the live east and west coast feeds of the channel, subscribers will have on-demand access to all of Showtime’s original series. The company also says it will provide “hundreds of hours of movies, documentary and sports programming.”
For years, owners of premium channels feared that if they sold their programming directly to consumers then cable and satellite companies might retaliate — perhaps by refusing to market the services. An independent service, like the one Showtime plans, makes it easier for pay TV customers to cut the cord. But those calculations are up in the air as execs look longingly at the growing number of people, especially millennials, who subscribe to broadband but not pay TV.
“Historically, new distribution has been important to premium TV,” Blank says. Similar to the way Showtime expanded to satellite services DirecTV and Dish Network, and telco providers led by Verizon’s FiOS and AT&T’s U-verse, “there’s an historic precedent here.”
He adds that he doesn’t believe the new offering will encourage cord cutting — or result in push back from cable companies. Comcast reported that in Q1 it had more broadband customers than TV subscribers. “That tells you which parts of their business are growing now.”
Macquarie Research’s Tim Nollen estimated yesterday that an online Showtime service could attract about 1.1 million subscribers this year, rising to 2.8 million in 2018.