Free Showtime bonanza will provide unique market data for providers

Through traditional providers, channels like Showtime and Epix typically offer free preview weekends, sometimes around holidays like Memorial Day. (Showtime)

The free Showtime and Epix (or both) previews from providers are coming fast, and they could end up surfacing some interesting market data for subscription video services.

Sling TV today announced that it will give its customers a free preview of Showtime this weekend. The service is also providing an Epix sampler with some free episodes of the channel’s top series and access to children’s network Kabillion.

YouTube TV is providing free access to Epix through April 25. Charter said it will provide both Showtime and Epix at no additional charge through Sunday, April 19 to Spectrum TV customers who do not currently receive those channels. AT&T is also offering a series of free premium channel previews for all its DirecTV and U-verse video subscribers. It started with Showtime until March 26, followed by Starz from March 26 to April 2, Epix from April 2 to April 16, and HBO from April 17 to April 20. Comcast is offering access to the on-demand catalogs for Showtime and Epix for its Xfinity X1 video subscribers for 30 days. Verizon also said that it will give its Fios TV subscribers 30 days of free access to Showtime, Epix and Gaiam TV Fit and Yoga beginning April 1.

The numerous free previews from providers are coming as Americans are having to shelter in place and social distance to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Michael Goodman, director of digital media strategies at Strategy Analytics, said the previews are part public service and part public relations.

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“We’re trying to be a responsible company and make ourselves available to consumers. But there’s a potential upside for picking up additional subscribers,” he said.

If these premium channels can even get a small to moderate bump in subscriber totals, then it works in their favor, he added, plus it gives them an opportunity to experiment with new preview models that wouldn’t be used under normal circumstances.

“They’re going to learn something that they wouldn’t have known previously,” Goodman said.

Through traditional providers, channels like Showtime and Epix typically offer free preview weekends, sometimes around holidays like Memorial Day. Through their apps, they offer free trials ranging from seven to 30 days.

The free previews that premium channels are running during the coronavirus outbreak could offer new insights and market data on conversion rates from free to paid subscribers.

Alan Wolk, co-founder and lead analyst at TV[R]EV, last week suggested taking it a step beyond channel previews, and said all services – including SVODs, MVPDs, virtual MVPDs and premium networks – should provide one month of free service to consumers.

“There would be multiple benefits to this plan beyond pure altruism and a desire to help out fellow citizens during a time of grave national crisis,” he wrote in a Forbes article.

He said it would give ad-supported networks and apps a chance to try out different ad loads, which he said could help cable and broadcast networks win back viewers by showing them a different user experience than they remember. He also it would give SVODs a chance to better show off their programming and platforms, and provide a shot for MVPDs to possibly endear or partially redeem themselves to a public that has embraced cord cutting amid rising service costs.