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Ownership and Conglomeration

Showtime is a subscription-based cable television network that is owned and operated by Showtime Networks, Inc (SNI). SNI was created in 1976, when Viacom, Inc. decided to create its own subscription-based cable television network in the mold of Home Box Office to compete in this premium channel market. Viacom was once a part of the CBS Corporation, but spun off in 1971 as a syndication company due to anti-trust concerns. Showtime began airing on a few cable systems in California in 1976, and was launched nationally in 1978. In 1983 in a joint venture between Viacom International, Warner Communications, and the American Express Company, SNI merged with The Movie Channel (TMC) to form Showtime/ The Movie Channel, Inc. The three companies owned 50 percent, 40.5 percent, and 9.5 percent respectively. SNI also purchased a small cable service called Spotlight for about $40 million dollars.There were talks between Viacom and a cable system operator called TCI, to sell half the firm for $225 million, but these negotiations ended when TCI began developing a now rival services, Starz.[1]

In 1990, the current CEO of Showtime, Matthew Blank was brought in to the company as president and chief operating officer of SNI. Tony Cox remained the CEO and chairman, though he left in 1995 during a restructuring of Showtime in which it became a subunit of Blockbuster Entertainment, a corporation Viacom had purchased recently.  In 1996, SNI and Robert Redford launched the Sundance Channel, feature independent and foreign films. This channel has since been bought out by ComCast. Showtime invested a few million dollars in the digital television recorder company TiVo Inc. and launched some digital channels, including a high-definition channel in the late 1990s. Showtime was one of the first companies to use HD television. By 1999, Showtime had improved significantly in its subscription totals, reaching 65% more subscribers than 5 years earlier.[2]

Viacom merged with its old parent company CBS Corp. in 2000, acquiring all of its cable channels and production units under its own umbrella. Due to internal rivalries, and low profits, the company decided to spit in two in 2005. The old Viacom was renamed CBS Corp. and took ownership of Showtime along with CBS and UPN Broadcast networks, among other companies.[3]Currently, Showtime is doing well, having increased by 6 million subscribers in the past 6 years up to a total of 18.2 million. [4]

Partnerships with Other Companies

Film Rights

In 1983, SNI signed a 5 year $500 million deal that gave it exclusive rights to air movies produced by Paramount Pictures. SNI would later partner with MGM, in 1993, in an exclusive seven-year deal to broadcast up to 150 of its films. SNI also partnered with New Line, TriStar, Orion, and Castle Rock at this time.[5]

Paramount's contract with Showtime ended in 2007, and in 2009 in was announced that three of Showtime's major film suppliers would be joining together to create new premium cable channel called Epix. These companies included Paramount Pictures, MGM, and Lions Gate Entertainment. Showtime has reponded by currently relying more on original programming and making deals with somewhat smaller film production companies such as with DreamWorks, Summit Entertainment, the Weinstein Co., Miramax, and CBS Films unit.[6]

Time, Inc.

In 1989, Viacom sued Time Inc. the owner of HBO, alleging that Showtime had been kept out of the cable line up due to antitrust violations of the cable companies. A settlement was reached in 1992, that resulted in increased placement of SNI's offerings on Time's cable systems. In addition, SNI and HBO would work together on joint marketing campaigns. The first ad campaign with HBO launched in 1993. The companies spent unprecedented amounts of money on an effort to promote cable broadcasting using television, radio, and print ads.[7]

Roles in Production/ Distribution/ Transmission

In 1992, Showtime created a new unit called the Showtime Entertainment Group which was in charge of producing approximately 20 original movies per year that the network could air on its channels. This company would also produce some of Showtime's original series. Some of these films were subsequently released to US theaters in order to gain in popularity after they had aired on the channel. After the company was bought under Blockbuster, more profits were made on these films through video sales.[8]

Showtime generally does not send many of its show to other channels through syndication due to their often graphic, sexual, or violent nature. However, when this does happen such as The L Word on Logo or Dexter on CBS, the shows are often censored extensively.[9]

Scheduling and Promotional Techniques

Showtime does its scheduling based on who will be watching. Showtime tends to run its new episodes of shows at night, when most people are home from work. Friday nights are generally filled with reruns and late night movies, while Sunday nights are full of new episodes for Showtime's top shows. [10]

Showtime also works with other companies to promote their channel. For example, Showtime and iTunes are working together and offering a $25 iTunes gift card when a customer subscribes to Showtime.


There is also a Showtime app for iPhones and iTouches which allows users to stay updated with Showtimes news and shows. 


Advertising Techniques 

Showtime does not show advertisements on its network, but focuses on drawing critical acclaim and popular buzz to keep its original programming afloat. It has a variety of promotional strategies for the shows,mentioned above, such as marketing on the Kindle and iPad, as well as provocative billboards etc.[11]

In 2006, Showtime launched Showtime Interactive, which was a website that allowed subscribers to watch hundreds of hours of programming and extra footage for $1.99 per show. Showtime also now offers its shows on the iTunes store. CEO Matthew Blank has stated that offering shows online is a way to advertise for the shows as well as to entice people to subscribe to the channel. Showtime had over a million streams of the premiere episode of "The Tudors" to promote it. Blank reports "those dollars [from iTunes] are not material enough that they are going to change our business. But what does change our business is that it continues to build a brand. And it gives people access to our service that aren't in our family right now."[12]

Branding Strategies

Showtime has had several slogans since its start. Currently its slogan is TV. At Its Best. This slogan is part of Showtime's brand and identity along with its abbreviation, the capital SHO. Showtime is also known for the content of its shows. AdFreak says that "Showtime knows what you really want: porn, weed, and violent psychos." Its shows incorporate all these ideas as in Dexter, Californication, and Weeds, thus they are part of Showtime's brand.[13]

Signature Programming and Genre Trends

          Showtime produces edgy original programming with the hopes of drawing critical acclaim and media hype.  Showtime's major competitor in this business model is HBO, another cable network.  In years past HBO has dominated the attention of fans and critics alike, but with the series finale of "The Sopranos" in 2007 Showtime took the opportunity to raise its reputation with the increasingly acclaimed "Weeds."[14] Since then, Showtime has produced many critically acclaimed shows and has a reputation for being a strong creative force in television.  Ira Glass, host and executive producer of Showtime's documentary "This American Life," says that executives at Showtime were "explicit in saying where they are in their business plan is that they were trying to change the way people perceive them...and the most important thing is that people know this is happening." [15] Since Showtime airs ad-free, it does not have to aim for certain demographics in order to please advertisers.  It does, however, air original programming with similar aspects in order to brand the channel.  Many of the shows revolve around complicated women surrounded with controversial issues.  These hot-button topics and high-profile actresses draw in audiences and then reveal the smart subtleties of the programming.  Kevin Nealon, an actor on "Weeds," explains fans fascination with the plot conflicts in Showtime programs: "People like to watch train wrecks...[Weeds] deals with real people and real situations, as dysfunctional as they are." [16]

Original Programming

"Weeds" is a show about a suburban widow who starts dealing pot to support her family.[17]

"Dexter" is about man who works as a bloodstain pattern analyst for the police department and is secretly a serial killer.[18]

"Nurse Jackie" is a dark comedy about a nurse who is addicted to drugs. [19]

"The Big C" stars a protagonist afflicted with cancer and determined to live her life to the fullest.[20]

"The United States of Tara" is about a woman with multiple-personality-disorder who has several alter egos. [21]

Related Channels[22]

Showtime offers a variety of channels with different programming to target specific audiences:

Showtime is the mother channel that features original programming, as well as boxing and mixed martial arts.

Showtime 2 offers "catch-up marathons" of original series as well as sports and feature films.

Showcase features "the best of Showtime" with movies and special programming.

Showtime Extreme shows boxing, martial arts, action movies, thrillers, and gangster films.

ShoBeyond features sci-fi programming, fantasy, and horror movies.

ShoNext offers documentaries and musical programming.

Showomen shows women-celebratory pieces.

ShoFamilyZone has only viewing appropriate for the entire family.

Showtime HD is Showtime programming in high definition.

Showtime 2 HD is Showtime programming in high definition.

Showtime On Demand offers "Convenience, Control, and Freedom" in viewing experiences.

Showtime PPV is a pay-per-view sports channel.

The Movie Channel features indie and classic films.

The Movie Channel HD offers movies in high definition.

The Movie Channel Xtra shows movies and movie extras.

The Movie Channel On Demand shows movies at viewers' choice.

FLIX features "Cool Classics for the Movie Generation"

FLIX On Demand offers DVD-like watching experiences.

Smithsonian Network is partnered with the Smithsonian Institution and features historical, scientific, and cultural programming.

Penn & Teller: Bullshit!


Penn & Teller: Bullshit! is a reality television show that aims to debunk public myths and misconceptions with a mixture of research, interviews, magic, and comedy. The show ultimately aims to protect consumers from enterprisers who take advantage of fads and superstitions to turn a profit. It is Showtime's longest running serial, on the air since 2003 and currently airing its eighth season. [23] Penn Jillette and Teller have been working together for over thirty years, and recently celebrated their Las Vegas magic show's tenth anniversary and its renewal to run through 2013. [24] The duo have also produced several documentaries, written books, and are favorites as talk show guests. 

The typical format the show follows includes interviews with those who have made a business out of the topic at hand, such as astronomy or alternative medical practices. Interviews with scientists and experts who decry these practices are then shown, with voiceover narration by Penn. Penn and Teller both perform magic tricks, skits, and experiments to entertain and emphasize their point. Teller does not talk during the program, providing a funny complementary character for Penn, whose commentary is unrestrained and often vulgar. The show ends with a plea to audience members to be aware of what they believe and consume. [25]

Target Audience

This program aims to reach a young, liberal, savvy audience with a sense of humor and an appreciation for performance. The show is often controversial, "debunking" topics like religion, college, and organic food with the use of profanity and sometimes nudity. Penn and Teller do not shy away from certain themes. Showtime brags that "no matter how popular a form of bullshit is — and regardless of what deep pockets or beloved figures support it — Penn & Teller are pit bulls for the truth, poised to tear down these myths in the most jaw-dropping fashion possible with their trademark wit and off-center comic sensibilities."[26] As a result, there is a lot of debate over the appropriateness of the show, which functions to entice curious viewers, as well as keep the show in the public eye. Both Penn and Teller espouse a libertarian viewpoint, and so naturally viewers with similar political backgrounds will feel a kinship with the magician/comedians' conclusions. However, the show's target audience includes all people who think critically and are not easily offended. Showtime has branded Penn and Teller as "the bad boys of magic." [27] This reputation attracts a young, liberal, intellectual audience that is economically valuable, despite also alienating conservatives. 

Cultural Meanings

Episode Analysis



Episode Analysis 

The opening sequence to Dexter is backed by eerie guitar music. It shows Dexter going through his morning routine. As Dexter is a blood spatter analyst artistically, every action is made to look somewhat bloody, from swatting a blood filled mosquito, to cutting breakfast meat, and even juicing a grapefruit.



Dexter is a Showtime original series about a man who works as a blood spatter analyst for the Miami Metro Police Department, but is also a psycho serial killer who only kills criminals. It is currently in its fifth season and is critically acclaimed. It has been nominated for a number of awards, and the actor of Dexter, Micheal Hall, has won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Television Drama. 

The average episode of Dexter has Dexter juggling his police work (catching the major villain of the season), his family life (his marriage, kids, and sister), and his urges to kill (generally a new villain that Dexter takes care of, so to speak, every episode). 

Target Audience

Dexter is a very original and unique program that takes elements of a number of different genres such as crime drama, action, and even comedy and mashes them together. It appeals to a wide target audience including young adults through middle aged and even elderly. It has enough action and suspense to satisfy the most hardened watcher of crime dramas, yet enough romance and intrigue to keep watchers of soap operas and other such shows occupied. It is edgy enough to attract new age, 'hip' watchers as well. Showtime's ex-President of Entertainment, Robert Greenblatt has stated, “I thought at best we would attract a devoted cult audience but soon realized that, ironically, this show is so thematically rich and layered with humanity that audiences of all kinds have flocked to it."[28]

Branding Strategy (Cultural Meanings)

Dexter fits right in with the Showtime brand identity. It is the epitome of an edgy show, as the main character, that the audience is meant to sympathize with, is actually a serial killer. Showtime advertises Dexter as a clean cut and normal looking guy, with a killer instinct. He is normal on the outside, but an absolute psycho on the inside. This fits in with Showtime's other shows such as Californication and Weeds. On top of this, Dexter relies on its critical acclaim rather than advertising to attract its viewers, fitting in with most other Showtime shows. 


Dexter is scheduled on Sunday nights at 9pm and 10pm. The episode from the week before is shown at 9pm so that if the viewer missed it, they can catch up before the current episode is shown at 10pm. At this point, the target audience is home and probably preparing for the work week. It is followed by another one of Showtime's hits, Weeds. These shows are late enough, that watching Dexter and Weeds may be the last thing the audience does before heading to bed. There is not a ton of competition between Dexter and other shows due to its time slot. 

The lack of commercials is also a big deal. No one wants to relax to watch their favorite show on a Sunday night, before the long week begins, to have it interrupted by a number of commercials every fifteen minutes. Dexter episodes are about 50 minutes in length and are completely uninterrupted. 

Production History

Dexter is an independently created and produced by Showtime. It is a Showtime 'original.' New episodes are only shown on Showtime but its previous seasons were syndicated to CBS in 2008 for rerun purposes. [29]


  1. "Showtime Networks, Inc. Business Information, Profile, and History" Retrieved Oct 5, 2010
  3. Arak, Joel. "Viacom makes split official." CBS News (2005): Retrieved 5 Oct 2010.
  4. Wallenstein, Andrew. "Exclusive: HBO subscribers dwindling." Hollywood Reporter (Sept. 13, 2010): Web. 5 Oct 2010.
  6. Littleton, Cynthia. "Showtime, Disney ink output deal." Variety. Mar. 11, 2010. Web. 5 Oct 2010.
  9. Stelter, Brian. "Showtime’s Serial Killer Moves to CBS, to a Not Entirely Warm Welcome." New York Times Feb 16, 2008.
  10. Showtime Official Site. Web. October 8 2010.
  11. Lieb, Rebecca. "Showtime Bows First Kindle Marketing Campaign." econsultancy, 1 June 2009. Web. 30 September 2010
  12. Ryssdal, Kai "Conversations from the corner office: Showtime CEO Matthew Blank" Interview Transcript. July 16, 2008. American Public Media
  13. Cullers, Rebecca. "Showtime keeps doing the little things right." AdFreak. 10, 19, 2008. Web. 7 Oct 2010.
  14. Pope, Kyle. "For Showtime, Suburban Angst Is Fast Becoming a Ratings Delight." The New York Times, 6 August 2006. Web. 30 September 2010.
  15. Weiss, Joanna. "Can Showtime Fill The Void?" The Boston Globe. 10 June 2007. Web. 30 September 2010
  16. Pope, Kyle. "For Showtime, Suburban Angst Is Fast Becoming a Ratings Delight." The New York Times, 6 August 2006. Web. 30 September 2010.
  17. Weeds Official Site. Web. 30 September 2010
  18. Dexter Official Site. 30 September 2010
  19. Nurse Jackie Official Site. Web. 30 September 2010
  20. The Big C Official Site. ↑ Web. 30 September 2010
  21. The United States of Tara Official Site. Web. 30 September 2010
  22. Showtime Networks Inc. Web. 30 September 2010
  23. Penn & Teller: Bullshit. 4 Nov. 2010
  24. "Penn & Teller Celebrate a Decade at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino." 4 Nov. 2010
  25. Penn & Teller: Bullshit." Web. 4 Nov. 2010
  26. Penn & Teller: Bullshit." Web. 4 Nov. 2010
  27. Penn & Teller: The Bad Boys of Magic. Web. 4 Nov. 2010