In January, not long after the merger of Viacom and CBS closed, CBS chief creative officer and Showtime Networks chief exec David Nevins asked BET Networks president Scott Mills to share some of the pipeline projects that Mills was most excited about.
One of those series was Lena Waithe’s “Twenties,” which at that point hadn’t yet premiered on BET, the cabler that joined the combined company from the Viacom side. With Waithe’s “The Chi” already popular on Showtime, Nevins asked Mills for a programming window on Showtime for “Twenties.” In turn, Mills asked Nevins for a BET window for “The Chi.”
Showtime and BET’s shared popularity with African American viewers, said Mills, is the reason BET was incorporated into the Showtime premium networks group after the merger. And the “logical progression” of that common audience between Viacom and CBS’ respective cablers is SHOxBET, the Showtime plex channel that launched Wednesday, marking ViacomCBS’ continued drive to synergize the many media properties now under its umbrella.
“This channel is really a reflection of taking those complementary elements to the next logical conclusion,” Mills told Variety. “And that is, both platforms really understand premium programming to African American viewers and people who value content that is anchored in African American narratives and African American stories.”
Black viewers are leading consumers of premium content, with a higher adoption rate than the general population, said Showtime CFO Tom Christie. The channel is expected to draw from what he calls a “typical” premium cable audience, i.e. 35- to 55-year-olds who consume a lot of entertainment.
SHOxBET will feature same-night replays of Showtime originals such as “The Chi,” “Black Monday,” “Desus & Mero” and the upcoming “The Good Lord Bird,” as well as new runs of some of Showtime’s “House of Lies,” “Guerilla” and “Sleeper Cell.” It will also offer first-run movies such as “Waves,” “An Acceptable Loss,” as well as BET’s “Back to the Goode Life,” “Keys to the City” and miniseries “Madiba.” Also featured on the plex are boxing events, documentaries, sports series such as “Shut Up and Dribble,” and stand-up comedy specials from Black comedians such as Eddie Griffin amd Mo’Nique.
SHOxBET will ultimately replace SHO Beyond, the Showtime plex channel focused on sci-fi, fantasy and horror films. ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish first mentioned the new collaborative channel on the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call in February, announcing that SHOxBET would replace Showtime’s Showcase channel. (Showcase will in turn replace SHO Beyond, which essentially means that SHOxBET is replacing the latter. For linear cable customers, this means that Showcase’s channel location may change, though that may vary by distributor.)
When asked whether programming would be introduced on the channel to address the issues of racial equality and social justice in the wake of the protests of the death of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement, Showtime’s Christie said that “The Chi” and “Desus & Mero” are “already speaking to those issues and those topics,” and function as a “foundation from which we can build from there.”
With the sheer volume of programming and platforms available, creating a niche channel like SHOxBET may seem like adding another blip to the noise. But Christie points to the success of other Showtime variants, such as the action-heavy Showtime Extreme.
“We do think, based on kind of anecdotal research, that customers do gravitate over time to finding the content they want on some of these places,” said Christie. “Now it does take time and and we’ve just got to be consistent and and put forth a good effort terms of progress. Well, I think over time, it could be a real driver for us.”
He also said that “The Chi” has been “doing gangbusters in terms of growing free trials” of Showtime.
Down the road, once post-pandemic production gets back into gear and the plex is in a groove, there may even be room for discussion of creating originals for SHOxBET.
One metric of success for the plex will be subscriber growth that can be attributed to the channel, as well as retention of current Showtime customers, said the execs.
“The goal for Showtime is to become broader, more accessible to different demo targets. And we think this is a very good first step to get there,” said Christie.