Why Does Showtime Still Exist?

Yellowjackets on Showtime
Image via Showtime
Matthew Belloni
January 23, 2022

Talking about Showtime always begs the question: Why does Showtime still exist? Vulture’s Joe Adalian recently touched on this question, and I’ll go further: Showtime shouldn’t exist. Not as a standalone streaming service, anyway.

The Showtime content offering isn’t all that different from what’s on general-interest streamer Paramount+, the priority for ViacomCBS, which owns them both. And Showtime, which once credibly argued that it was a legit HBO competitor, has been underfunded by its parent company, often going months between high-profile premieres, and often losing A-list TV packages to the deep-pocketed streamers like Netflix, AppleTV+, Amazon and HBO Max. Showtime won only one Emmy at the 2021 televised show, and that was for a Stephen Colbert special.

Overseas, Par+ and Showtime are being integrated into one product. The reason that ViacomCBS C.E.O. Bob Bakish hasn’t done the same in the U.S., of course, is that Showtime still generates tons of cash. Bakish doesn’t want to disturb that revenue, and he has said he thinks having two streaming outlets is additive. Maybe, and he’s been bundling both services as a promotion. But Bakish could keep Showtime as a linear channel and then merge its streaming service into Par+, just as Star has become a branded part of Disney+ overseas. Or, if ViacomCBS is really serious about competing with HBO Max, just beef up Par+ with Showtime shows, similar to how TNT and TBS feed HBO Max.  

ViacomCBS’ executive structure also causes an additional layer of complexity. Tom Ryan is C.E.O of streaming, but three TV programming execs—Nevins, George Cheeks and Chris McCarthy—all report to Bakish and vigorously defend their territories. Nevins has Showtime, BET and Par+ scripted content (with Paramount’s TV studio) underneath him; Cheeks has CBS and its studio, which means Nevins decides what to buy from Cheeks; and McCarthy is limited to unscripted and adult animation, except the Yellowstone/Taylor Sheridan universe that originated at Paramount Network, which McCarthy oversees. Confused? Oh, and these three guys don’t particularly like each other, according to sources at the company. Sounds like a place that could use some simplification around one streaming service.       

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