“Cord cutting and cord shaving; consolidation and contraction…there is no shortage of doom and gloom in the reporting about the media business,” opened Showtime Networks President and CEO David Nevins at the pay cable network’s executive portion of the Winter Press Tour in Pasadena on Saturday. “Yes, the distribution ecosystem is in flux. Yes, there is a merger or two you may have heard of. But content and the demand for it is in full flower.”
Nevins was joined on stage with Gary Levine, Showtime’s president of programming.
”As long as you are adapting your business model to all the new ways people want to consume your product you have every reason to feel optimistic about your prospects,” said Nevins. “The massive changes in the industry are actually good for lovers of television and good for the artists and craftsmen to actually make television. Never before has there been so much admiration for quality in our medium.”
Nevins described numerous facets of the business as “flourishing,” including more production and more overall jobs; diversity on the rise, which leads to a broader range of programs being produced; and a 42% increase in the past five years of episodic television being made.
“We are not there yet, but the industry is clearly making strides in the right direction,” he said, touting an estimated $72 billion spent on programming this year (according to cable). “Netflix, Amazon, Apple and Facebook, in particular, are responsible for a lot of that growth, but four-fifths of it is being spent by the traditional media companies in Southern California.”
”It’s true that veterans like us have to work harder to break through,” he added. “But what we offer is a steady flow of successful shows with creative integrity that bring an intense passion from their audience.”
Unfortunately, not every Showtime series has met that descriptor this season. Just 2 million viewers, on average, tuned in for the recent revival of Twin Peaks. Results for season one of comedy I’m Dying Up Here were notably modest. And a third recent entry, comedy White Famous, was canceled after one season.
Cord cutting, meanwhile, continues to accelerate at a fast pace. Over 22 million cord cutters aged 18 and older in 2017 shifted their attention to over-the-top (OTT) digital video platforms instead of pay-TV options, according to research firm eMarketer. And an estimated 34.4 million consumers described as “cord-nevers” (those who have never subscribed to traditional cable or satellite TV) means there were more than 56 million U.S. non-pay TV viewers in 2017.
”We understand the challenges and we react by trying hard to introduce different kinds of voices and different kinds of shows,” said Nevins. “We think these shows make sense on Showtime but they don’t particularly look like previous Showtime series. We are constantly pushing ourselves to go in new and different directions.”
On the upcoming Showtime agenda is comedy Kidding with Jim Carrey; movie Ball Street with Don Cheadle as Wall Street’s first black millionaire; drama pilot City on a Hill with Kevin Bacon, executive produced by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon; a series adaptation of The Kingkiller Chronicles based on Patrick Rothfuss’ contemporary fantasy novels and executive produced by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda; and legal thriller Your Honor from The Good Wife and The Good Fight creators Robert and Michelle King.
Additionally, Showtime has ordered multi-part documentary The Fourth Estate, which explores the process and progress of The New York Times and its journalists in covering the Trump administration. It premieres Sunday, May 27 at 8 p.m. ET.
Previously announced 10-episode half-hour animated Our Cartoon President, from Stephen Colbert, Chris Licht (The Late Show with Stephen Colbert) and showrunner R.J. Fried, will launch on Sunday. Feb. 11 at 8 p.m., paired with the season-seven debut of acclaimed Homeland at 9 p.m. Season three of Billions, starring Paul Giamatti and Damien Lewis, opens Sunday, March 25 at 10 p.m.; season two of aforementioned I’m Dying Up Here begins Sunday, May 6 at 10 p.m.; and season four of The Affair, featuring Dominic West, Ruth Wilson, Maura Tierney and Joshua Jackson returns Sunday, June 17 at 10 p.m..
The Chi from Lena Waithe, which follows daily life in a neighborhood in the South Side of Chicago, just made its bow on Showtime on Sunday, Jan. 7.
”We take pride in the fact that our shows don’t resemble each other, and yet firmly believe that in their DNA there is something about each one of those shows that make them belong on Showtime,” said Gary Levine. “We are always looking for that perfect balance that lets us explore new territory, bring in new voices and explore new genres.”
[Images courtesy of Eric Charbonneau/Showtime]