Cabler’s early Emmy crusade

Showtime makes play for support with DVD deluge

Now this is early.

Showtime has begun sending out 60,000 DVDs to the 12,000 members of the Academy of TV Arts & Sciences — a full five months before they have to mail in their Emmy ballots.

“No network or studio has ever sent out DVDs of their shows so far in advance,” said Richard Licata, exec VP of corporate communications for Showtime, who’s spearheading the early-bird strategy.

It’s been a big week for screeners: Showtime’s announcement comes just one day after Lionsgate said it was shipping 130,000 screeners of only one movie, “Crash,” to all members of the Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild.

Showtime is engulfing TV Academy members with multiple DVDs of five different series: the half-hour comedies “Weeds” (10 episodes) and “Barbershop” (also 10), the one-hour series “Huff” (six) and “The L Word” (six) and the full 10 hours of the miniseries “Sleeper Cell.”

Licata said that the “Huff” strategy is also a first because recipients will receive the six hours well before Showtime subscribers can see them; the second season of the show doesn’t begin on Showtime until April 1.

“The environment is so crowded with TV shows that I wanted to give TV Academy members a chance to allot their time to watching our DVDs,” Licata said.

He said that all of the networks and production houses “tend to wait until May to send out DVDs. So Academy members get a deluge of boxes with only five weeks to try to watch them.”

One reason Showtime is pushing so aggressively to beat all of its network competitors to the punch: Licata experimented last year by mailing DVDs of the entire first season of “Huff” to TV Acad members in late February. It’s no accident, he said, that when Emmy noms for 2005 were announced, “Huff” captured seven. Four were acting nominations, and Blythe Danner won the Emmy for supporting actress in a drama series.

Another reason Showtime has to push harder than its cable rivals is that it reaches only about 12.5 million subscribers, less than half of HBO’s 28 million sub base and only a fraction of the 87 milion-89 million who receive general-entertainment nets such as TNT, USA, Lifetime, TBS, A&E and FX, all of which sked original programs they deem Emmy-worthy.

Getting the word out about “Sleeper Cell” to Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. members paid off for Showtime, said Licata. The show premiered on Dec. 4, he said, “and got a Golden Globe nomination for best miniseries on Dec. 11.”

While TV Academy members are wending their way through the multiple episodes of Showtime’s five series, the network plans to engineer another mass mailing in the spring. Among the DVDs in this mailing are the original movie “Speak”; the docu “Riker’s High,” about a school in the largest correctional facility in North America; the “Masters of Horror” anthology hours; and the “Penn & Teller: Bullshit” comic investigative reports.

In its January mailing, Showtime is touting not only the regular cast members of its five series but guest performers such as Sharon Stone and Anjelica Huston in “Huff” and Rosanna Arquette, Dana Delany and Alan Cumming in “The L Word.”

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