The entire season 7 premiere of Dexter is on YouTube – and no, it’s not a pirated copy. Showtime posted the entire episode, as well as the season 2 premiere of Homeland. A capitulation to pirates? No, an effort to entice viewers to pay for premium television service.
Bundled cable channels occasionally host episodes of their shows online, either through the video player on their site or through Hulu, but premium channels like HBO and Showtime have shied away from offering their content online. Until now. Showtime is not running ads with its YouTube content, indicating that the free online distribution is, indeed, a marketing ploy.
Cable networks started experimenting with offering their content online last year. Fox led the charge in an unprecedented digital-first showing of Zooey Deschanel’s vehicle New Girl before the show aired on cable. The “sneak peak barrage” worked wonders for buzz, leading the network to try again this year with Mindy Kaling’s The Mindy Project. Fox’s success with digital premiers prompted NBC to try the same approach with Smash in January of this year, and again with its new fall shows Revolution and The New Normal. Showtime’s offering is available only to YouTube users in the U.S.
This digital strategy seems to be successful at expanding the audience for new shows, but will it work for shows going into their 7th season? So far, the answer appears to be a tentative yes. More than 40,000 people have tuned in since the Dexter episode was posted on the Showtime YouTube channel last night, meaning 40,000 people without Showtime didn’t pirate the episode.