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Showtime Execs Talk ‘Cord Cobbling,’ Monthly Launch Strategy and Docu Boom

Showtime’s volume of original programming is growing so significantly that the pay cabler is shifting its focus to a monthly staggered launch strategy rather than the quarterly focus of years past. The accelerated effort comes as Showtime aims to ensure it has a steady flow of shows to promote at a moment when consumers are starting to assemble their own skinny bundles.

Showtime president-CEO David Nevins said Tuesday that Showtime aims to schedule its original programs in such a way that high-profile offerings are launching every month. In the past Showtime has what he called a “Noah’s Ark formula” in which scripted originals rolled out two-by-two roughly quarterly basis.

Nowadays, Showtime has enough volume from its scripted series, documentary films, specials and series and sports programming that they can focus on refreshing the menu on a monthly basis. Instead of two scripted series premiering in the same week or within a week of each other, Showtime will look to spread those scripted launches across the calendar.

The shift in emphasis makes sense at a time when Showtime faces more competition than ever and is marketing the services as a stand-alone broadband offering. “You have to earn your viewers every month,” he said. “There’s pressure to deliver consistently throughout the year.”

Nevins held his first Television Critics Association press tour presentation as Showtime’s president and CEO, having formally taken the chief exec reins from longtime leader Matt Blank this month. He was joined on stage for the Q&A portion by Gary Levine, a 15-year Showtime vet recently promoted to president of programming.

Nevins asserted that 2016 will be the year of “customized viewing” among early-adopter consumers that he dubbed “cord-cobblers.”

“This year’s going to be about choice — people putting together the bundle that makes sense for them,” Nevins said. “In most cases that will be through traditional distributors with maybe some add-ons.”

Showtime’s established position as a pay TV offering and growing volume of marquee shows means that a “a lot of these trends favor our business model,” Nevins said. He also touted Showtime’s “uniquely aggressive” effort to make sure its stand-alone broadband service is offered through an array of digital distributors, from Apple and Google to Amazon Prime, Hulu, Roku and PlayStation Vue.

Showtime’s broadband stand-alone bowed in July. The October premieres of “Homeland” and “The Affair” helped juice new subscriber sign-ons by 50%, Nevins said, although he would not elaborate beyond the percentage figure.

In addition to the digital push, Showtime is expanding around the world as well. Last year the company set its first licensing deal with a foreign cable programmer to launch a Showtime-branded channel in Canada. Similar deals are under way in other territories, Nevins said.

Nevins made a point of showcasing Showtime’s investment in docu programming, giving a TCA showcase to “The Circus” the political documentary series that bows next month and runs through Election Day. And he cued a clip from Spike Lee’s upcoming Michael Jackson docu, “Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall.”

Levine fielded a host of questions about the status of new and returning series. Matt LeBlanc comedy “Episodes” could end after its fifth season airs this year but they won’t have clarity for some time, he said. Creators Jeffrey Klarik and David Crane “are hard at work on the fifth season. We’ll have to wait and see if black smoke or white smoke comes out of the chimney.” He credited the showrunners with making a “painstakingly handcrafted show.”

Nevins confirmed that the much-anticipated “Twin Peaks” sequel will air in the first half of 2017. He later told reporters that he had seen about 25 minute of cut-together scenes from director David Lynch that were “incredibly exciting.”

Levine talked about the origins of “Roadies,” a high-gloss effort from filmmaker Cameron Crowe, J.J. Abrams and Winnie Holzman. He couldn’t resist using a line from Crowe’s 1997 film “Jerry Maguire” in telling reporters about the pitch meeting. “When he came in to tell us he was ready to do a series he had us at ‘hello,’ ” Levine said.

“Roadies” is an hourlong comedy, a format that Showtime generally favors because they have more traction with viewers and command higher fees in international markets. “Hours are viewed more and streamed more and do better internationally,” Nevins told reporters.

(Pictured: David Nevins and Gary Levine)

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