Showtime Carves Out New Identity Amid Hollywood’s Streaming Wars

In an era of streaming giants, the media outlet behind “Billions,” “Homeland” and “Good Lord Bird” is trying to stand apart from the pack by celebrating its smaller size.

A campaign that started during the Emmys makes the point that Showtime  — available via pay cable and streaming video — has little intention of churning out dozens of projects every year. Instead, it focuses on crafting distinctive series and burnishes the creative forces behind them.

“Our model is designed to favor quality over tonnage,” says Michael Engelman, Showtime’s chief marketing officer, in an interview. “This is what our consumer responds to, and our willingness to facilitate the artist, to get out of the way of the artist, and to let them tell their story in ways that connect emotionally with all sorts of different types of viewers is something that is increasingly unique and rare.”

In a not-too-distant era, Showtime used to tell potential subscribers it had “The Best Stuff on Television,” or played up the fact that its programs had “No Limits.” As the rise of streaming video disrupts distribution and brings new rivals to the mix, the ViacomCBS outlet is latching on to new concepts.

The campaign will show up via TV commercials and outdoor billboards. Some of the ads play up creators and actors such as Lena Waithe and William H. Macy and include voiceovers from them. At the end of the spots, viewers are told that Showtime is “Made by….”and will see different examples of the creative talent responsible for its programs. The concept is meant to emphasize that “work at Showtime is not some sort of corporate output,” says Engelman. “It’s made by the artists.”

Showtime takes to the promotional trail as its competitive set is in flux. Its primary rival, HBO, has put new focus on getting consumers to subscribe to the streaming-video hub HBO Max, and is touting everything from “Friends” to Warner Brothers superhero films. Meanwhile, Walt Disney and Discovery both recently unleashed a torrent of announcements about coming projects for their new services, Disney Plus and Discovery Plus.

Though Showtime is offered via broadband, it doesn’t have to be all things to all people. By next year, it will be part of a suite of streaming offerings from parent company ViacomCBS that will include the broad Paramount Plus subscription service as well as the ad-supported outlet Pluto.

“You look at the product on Showtime. It is more coastal. It is more R-rated. It is not as broad as we intend Paramount Plus to be,” said Bob Bakish, VIacomCBS’ president and CEO, speaking to investors at a recent conference organized by UBS. “And therefore, we think there is a role for it, broadly speaking, in the ecosystem. And by the way, we like Showtime’s lane even more relative to the competition — traditional competition, given what’s going on in the category.”

The campaign will also serve to help Showtime build better ties with its employee base, says Engelman. Internal messaging can use the “Made by…” slogan to identify individual staffers who contribute to various projects.

Engelman came to Showtime in July of last year, after working as chief marketing officer for WarnerMedia’s TBS and TNT networks. During his time there, he helped to launch series including “The Alienist,” “ Animal Kingdom,” and “Search Party.”

“We are going to win by understanding who we are as a brand and why we matter to viewers,” says Engelman. “That’s a fundamental that doesn’t change in an era of streaming.”

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