Is Showtime’s All-At-Once Play For Dice The Right Bet?

Showtime announced this week that it would be rolling out the first season of its new series “Dice” a semi-fictionalized account of the life of comedian Andrew Dice Clay, on an all-at-once basis.

Releasing series on an all-at-once basis has formerly been the province of streaming services like Amazon and Netflix who (A) want to create buzz around their new series, and (B) rely on subscribers, not ratings.

But Showtime is a subscription service, too. Is their decision a harbinger of things to come or just a one-time experiment?

While Showtime’s decision may have been intended as an experiment, TDG feels that releasing all episodes of a show at once can be a double edged sword for the subscription services, HBO and Showtime in particular.

The reason? Churn.

Both HBO and Showtime feature some great original series along with a limited selection of movies. Their overall content library is pretty thin compared to Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon, though both have a number of hit shows, both current and historical.

And while those shows may prove attractive to new viewers, they’re also easily binged-on. Now that both HBO and Showtime have standalone apps, it’s very enticing for viewers to sign up, spend a month or two bingeing on the shows they want to watch, and then unsubscribe until the new season begins again.

Unlike their streaming cousins, which have a wide range of programming, there’s not much to keep a subscriber glued to HBO or Showtime. There are movies and older series like Deadwood and The Sopranos, but many of those are also available via Netflix and Amazon. So it’s actually a very rational decision for viewers to switch HBO and Showtime off during the ‘off season’ — especially given their premium price points.

And where the MVPDs’ labyrinthine cancellation policies once kept churn down, the ease of starting and stopping an account via iTunes or similar makes the temptation to cancel way too easy to act upon. A popular series like Homeland that airs week-to-week over a four or five month season means that viewers are locked in for those four or five months. Not four or five weeks. For a subscription network, that’s a huge difference.

Countering the concerns over churn are the benefits that come from a series that gains a lot of buzz upon release. Netflix and Amazon have both profited from the amount of chatter in both mainstream media and social media that accompanied the release of new seasons of House of Cards, Orange Is The New Black, and Transparent. If orchestrated carefully, that buzz can help the network sell thousands of new subscriptions while making sure that existing subscribers stay put.

At the end of the day though, we feel the negatives of releasing all episodes of a series at once currently outweigh the positives for HBO and Showtime. With their high monthly fees and limited content offerings, those networks need the carrot of weekly series to keep users (especially OTT users) in the fold. While it’s a clever tactic for the occasional series, as a long-term plan we feel it would lead to increased churn rates.

Originally published at tdgresearch.com on March 24, 2016.

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