Showtime is an American premium television network owned by ViacomCBS Domestic Media Networks, and is the flagship property of parent subsidiary under its Premium Content Group unit, Showtime Networks. Showtime’s programming primarily includes theatrically released motion pictures and original television series, along with boxing and mixed martial arts matches, occasional stand-up comedy specials, and made-for-TV movies.
Headquartered at Paramount Plaza on the northern end of New York City’s Broadway district, Showtime operates eight 24-hour, linear multiplex channels; a traditional subscription video on demand service; and two proprietary streaming platforms, the TV Everywhere offering Showtime Anytime (which is included as part of a subscription to the linear Showtime television service) and a namesake over-the-top service sold directly to streaming-only consumers. In addition, the Showtime brand has been licensed for use by a number of channels and platforms worldwide, including Showtime Arabia (since merged into OSN) in the Middle East and North Africa, and the now-defunct Showtime Movie Channels in Australia.
Showtime is also sold independently of traditional and over-the-top multichannel video programming distributors a la carte through Apple TV Channels and Amazon Video Channels, which feature VOD library content and live feeds of Showtime’s linear television services (consisting of the primary channel’s East and West Coast feeds and, for Amazon Video customers, the East Coast feeds of its seven multiplex channels). As of September 2018, Showtime’s programming was available to approximately 28.567 million U.S. households that subscribed to a multichannel television provider (28.318 million of which receive Showtime’s primary channel at minimum).
Early history (1976–1982)
Showtime was launched on July 1, 1976 on Times-Mirror Cable systems in Escondido, Long Beach and Palos Verdes, California through the conversion of 10,000 subscribers of the previous Channel One franchise. The following week on July 8, Showtime launched on Viacom Cablevision’s system in Dublin, California; the channel was originally owned by Viacom. The first program and television special to be broadcast on Showtime was Celebration, a concert special featuring performances by Rod Stewart, Pink Floyd and ABBA. By the end of its first year on the air, Showtime had a total of 55,000 subscribers nationwide. On March 7, 1978, Showtime became a nationally distributed service after it was uplinked to satellite, turning it into a competitor with HBO and other pay cable networks.
In 1979, Viacom sold a 50% ownership interest in Showtime to the TelePrompTer Corporation. On July 4, 1981, Showtime adopted a 24-hour programming schedule (rival HBO would eventually follow suit in December of that year). In 1982, Group W Cable, a subsidiary of Westinghouse Electric Corporation (which had acquired TelePrompTer the previous year), sold its 50% stake in Showtime back to Viacom for $75 million; the sale of Group W’s stake in the channel occurred as the company had entered into a partnership with Walt Disney Productions (now The Walt Disney Company) to develop a competing premium service, The Disney Channel (Group W dropped out of the joint venture that September, due to disagreements over creative control and financial obligations). 1982 saw the premiere of Showtime’s first made-for-cable movie Falcon’s Gold and its first original series and children’s program Faerie Tale Theatre.
Formation of Showtime Networks and ownership by Viacom (1982–2005)
In August 1982, MCA Inc. (then-owner of Universal Pictures), Gulf+Western (then-owner of Paramount Pictures) and Warner Communications reached an agreement to jointly acquire The Movie Channel (TMC), in which the three companies combined would acquire a controlling 75% interest in the service (with each holding a 25% ownership stake) from Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment. The proposal was motivated by the studios wanting to increase their share of revenue for licensing rights to their films to premium television services, as well as concerns that HBO’s dominance of that market and its pre-buying of pay cable rights to films prior to their theatrical release would result in that service holding undue negotiating power for the television rights, resulting in a lower than suitable licensing fee rate the studios would be paid for individual films. The three companies officially announced their agreement in principle to acquire interests in TMC on November 11, 1982. Subsequently, in late December of that year, the U.S. Department of Justice (which had blocked a similar attempt by MCA, Gulf+Western, 20th Century Fox and Columbia Pictures to create a competing pay service, Premiere, in an antitrust case ruling two years earlier in January 1981) launched a routine preliminary inquiry into the proposed partnership.
On January 7, 1983, Viacom International added itself as a partner and drafted an amendment to the proposal to consolidate The Movie Channel with Showtime. Under the revised proposal, the four studios would each own a 22.58% stake in the two networks, with American Express owning a 9.68% minority interest. In addition, the consortium would appoint a management team separate from those employed by the two channels – which would continue to operate as separate services – to operate the joint venture. However, the deal ran into regulatory hurdles since Warner, Universal and Paramount received 50% of their respective total revenue from film releases and licensing fees from premium services; furthermore, Showtime and TMC combined would control about 30% of the pay cable marketplace, creating an oligopoly with HBO (which, in conjunction with Cinemax, controlled 60% of the market).
After a four-month investigation resulted in the Department of Justice filing a civil antitrust lawsuit against the five parties to block the Showtime-TMC merger on June 10, 1983, the Department asked Warner and American Express to restructure the deal during hearings for the case. The Department’s decision – citing concerns, including some expressed by HBO management, that combining the assets of Showtime and TMC would stifle competition in the sale of their programming and that of other pay cable services to cable providers – was despite the fact that, under the original proposal, MCA, Gulf+Western and Warner had each agreed to continue licensing films released by their respective movie studios to competing pay television networks. The partners involved in the merger would also set standard prices for films that were acquired for broadcast on The Movie Channel and Showtime, either those produced by the studio partners or by unassociated film studios. To address the Justice Department’s concerns over the deal, the four partners submitted another revised proposal for consideration on July 19, that included guarantees of conduct agreeing that Paramount, Universal and Warner Bros. would not receive higher residual licensing payments for films acquired by Showtime and The Movie Channel than that paid by other studios, and that all four partners would not permit the two channels in the venture to pay lower fees for films produced by three studio partners than that paid by smaller pay television services for the same films.
After the revised proposal was rejected on July 28, Warner Communications and American Express restructured the purchase to include only Viacom as a partner, bowing Gulf+Western and MCA out from the partnership. The changes – which Justice Department officials acknowledged would “prevent any anti-competitive effect from arising” following the merger, by allowing other premium services to enter the market should the venture significantly raise licensing fee prices for films – led the Justice Department to drop its challenge to the merger agreement on August 12; the Department formally approved the deal the following day on August 13. When the deal was completed on September 6, 1983, the operations of The Movie Channel and Showtime were folded into a new holding company, Showtime/The Movie Channel, Inc., which was majority owned by Viacom (controlling 50% of the venture’s common stock as well as investing $40 million in cash), with Warner Communications (which owned 31%) and Warner-Amex (which owned the remaining 19% interest) as minority partners.
As the consolidation of its operations with The Movie Channel was ongoing, in 1983, Showtime increased its national distribution on cable providers when competing premium service Spotlight ceased operations, effectively absorbing that channel’s subscriber base.
1984 saw the network’s first major promotional campaign, “We Make Excitement” (also referred to, particularly in bumpers and program introductions, as “Showtime Excitement”), created by the J. Walter Thompson company and utilizing an adapted version of the Pointer Sisters song “I’m So Excited”. The campaign lasted into 1986 and coincided with both the exclusivity deal signed with Paramount for films (see below) and a graphical upgrade to the network’s presentation to include computer-generated graphics.
Showtime logo, used from 1984 to 1997; a 3D circle containing a TV screen (which was originally used as the channel’s primary logo dating back to 1979) was used alongside this logo from 1984 to 1990. This logo was also used on Showtime Australia until 2009. It was also in use for nostalgia purposes for the marketing of the 2019 series Black Monday.
On August 10, 1985, after Time Inc. and cable provider Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI) jointly submitted a bid to buy the company for $900 million and the assumption of $500 million in debt as well as an earlier offer by American Express the previous month to buy out Warner’s share of the company (under a clause in the agreement that allowed either company the option of buying out their partner’s stake in Warner-Amex), Warner Communications exercised an option to acquire American Express’ 50% share of Warner-Amex Cable Communications for $450 million. Among the options, barring that it chose to sell Viacom a 50% interest in the company for $450 million, the deal originally excluded Warner-Amex’s 19% interest in Showtime-The Movie Channel, Inc.; that interest would have reverted to Warner, which intended to operate Warner-Amex as a wholly owned subsidiary.
Two weeks later on August 26, Viacom acquired Warner Communications and Warner-Amex’s combined 50% ownership interest in Showtime/The Movie Channel, Inc. as well as full ownership of the Warner-Amex and public shareholder interests in MTV Networks for $671.7 million, giving Viacom exclusive ownership of both networks and once again making it the sole owner of Showtime through its $500 million cash payment and acquisition of 1.625 million shares from Warner for the latter’s 31% stake in Showtime/The Movie Channel and Warner-Amex’s 19% interest in the unit and its 60% interest in MTV Networks (Viacom owned Showtime alone or jointly with other companies – TelePrompTer Corporation, and later briefly, its successor Group W Cable – from the time it launched in July 1976). The buyout, part of an option given by Warner in its purchase of American Express’ interest in MTV, was exercised in part to finance much of the buyout of Showtime/The Movie Channel without borrowing any money (ironically, Warner Communications would eventually acquire rivals HBO and Cinemax, when the company merged with Time Inc. in 1989 to form Time Warner). The subsidiary was renamed Showtime Networks, Inc. in 1988.
Also in 1988, the company formed Showtime Event Television (now Showtime PPV) as a pay-per-view distributor of special event programming. In 1990, Showtime ventured into acquiring and premiering independent films exclusively for the channel as part of the 30-Minute Movie short film anthology series. One of its first premieres, 12:01 PM, was nominated for an Academy Award, while 1992’s Session Man won an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. In the years that followed, Showtime expanded its acquisitions into the realm of feature-length fare, including the Adrian Lyne-directed 1997 remake of Lolita.
On March 1, 1994, Showtime and The Movie Channel in conjunction with rivals HBO and Cinemax implemented a cooperative content advisory system to provide to parents specific information about pay-cable programming content that may be unsuitable for their children; the development of the system—inspired by the advisory ratings featured in program guides distributed by the major premium cable services—was in response to concerns from parents and advocacy groups about violent content on television, allowing Showtime Networks and other premium services discretionary authority to assign individual ratings corresponding to the objectionable content depicted in specific programs (and categorized based on violence, profanity, sexuality or miscellaneous mature material). A revised system—centered around ten content codes of two to three letters in length—was implemented by Showtime and the other participating premium services on June 10, 1994.
1997 saw the channel’s first major rebrand since the 1980s, with a new logo emphasizing the “SHO” part of the network’s name within a circle (intended to be a spotlight), playing into the channel’s common acronym in listings services like TV Guide. A new slogan, “No Limits” (in reference to the fact that as a premium channel, Showtime could push the boundaries of programming without censorship, as well as offer the type of exciting programming that appealed to subscribers), and a bold red-and-black color scheme was instituted, with promotions and bumpers feature surrealistic imagery; the campaign was created by the newly formed in-house marketing and advertising agency, “Red Group”.
In 2000, Showtime launched “Showtime Interactive 24.7”, a service that provided DVD-style interaction of its entertainment offerings. The following year in 2001, Showtime became one of the first cable networks to launch a high definition simulcast feed (with Star Trek: Insurrection becoming the first film on the network to be broadcast in HD); Showtime also began to provide Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound on select programs.
Under CBS Corporation ownership (2005–2019)
On June 14, 2005, Viacom decided to separate itself into two companies (only six years after the company’s acquisition of CBS), both of which would be controlled by Viacom parent National Amusements, amid stagnation of the company’s stock price. When the split was completed on December 31, 2005, the original Viacom was restructured as CBS Corporation and acquired Showtime Networks along with CBS’ broadcasting assets (including the CBS television network, UPN and the company’s broadcast group, which became CBS Television Stations), Paramount Television (now the separate arms CBS Television Studios for network and cable production, and CBS Television Distribution for production of first-run syndicated programs and off-network series distribution), advertising firm Viacom Outdoor (renamed CBS Outdoor), Simon & Schuster, and Paramount Parks (which was later sold to Cedar Fair, L.P. on June 30, 2006). A new company that assumed the Viacom name kept Paramount Pictures, the MTV Networks and BET Networks cable divisions, and Famous Music (the latter of which was sold to Sony-ATV Music Publishing in May 2007).
Re-merger with Viacom (2019–present)
On August 13, 2019, it was officially announced that CBS and Viacom would merge into a new entity known as ViacomCBS. Viacom CEO Bob Bakish will serve as president and CEO of the new company, while Ianniello will become chairman and CEO of CBS and oversee CBS-branded assets. Shari Redstone will also serve as chairperson of ViacomCBS. On October 29, 2019, National Amusements approved the re-merger deal. It closed on December 4, 2019. As part of the new structure, the Showtime Networks unit and its assets—Showtime, The Movie Channel and Flix—became part of the Premium Content Group division of ViacomCBS Domestic Media Networks, along with BET and temporarily Pop TV (which was transferred to the Youth & Entertainment Group division the following month), to be overseen by SNI CEO David Nevins.
List of channels
Depending on the service provider, Showtime provides up to sixteen multiplex channels – eight 24-hour multiplex channels, all of which are simulcast in both standard definition and high definition – as well as a video on demand service (Showtime On Demand). Showtime broadcasts its primary and multiplex channels on both Eastern and Pacific Time Zone schedules. The respective coastal feeds of each channel are usually packaged together (though most cable providers only offer the east and west coast feeds of the main Showtime channel), resulting in the difference in local airtimes for a particular movie or program between two geographic locations being three hours at most.
Subscribers to the separate premium film service The Movie Channel, which is also owned by ViacomCBS, do not necessarily have to subscribe to Showtime in order to receive TMC; both The Movie Channel and co-owned fellow movie service Flix are typically sold together in a package (although in the case of Flix, this depends on whether that channel is carried on a particular television provider), though DirecTV and Dish Network alternately sell TMC through a separate film tier. From 1999 to 2005, the package encompassing Showtime and its sister networks was marketed as “Showtime Unlimited”; the broader tier sometimes included the Sundance Channel (now SundanceTV) during this period, by way of the stake Showtime Networks held in the network from its 1996 inception until Sundance’s 2008 purchase by Rainbow Media.