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Earlier Release of Films on Cable TV : Showtime to Offer Pay-Per-View Service

Times Staff Writer

A new national pay-television service scheduled to start this summer will broadcast recent motion pictures at the same time that they become available on videocassettes, it was announced Monday.

Showtime/The Movie Channel, the nation’s No. 2 pay-TV network, said it will offer films and other special event programs on a so-called pay-per-view basis, a relatively new technology that allows home movie viewers to order programs for one-time-only prices much as they buy movie theater tickets. The new service will be totally separate from the company’s existing Showtime and Movie Channel pay-TV networks.

Showtime’s move places it ahead of archrival Home Box Office in the pay-television industry’s protracted and in large part unsuccessful effort to fight inroads made by the burgeoning home-video business.

“Pay-per-view offers a tremendously convenient and inviting new entertainment alternative,” said Neil R. Austrian, chairman and chief executive of Showtime. “Ordering an event in this manner is a delightful relief from driving back and forth to the video store (to rent or buy films on cassettes).”

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The announcement was made at a press conference during the four-day convention of the National Cable Television Assn.

Showtime expects to offer the movies at about $4.50 and will present as many as four different film titles each month. Each film will be shown for a week, with viewers able to designate the day and time that they wish to see it. The films will be available on the pay-per-view basis six to nine months before they will be shown on regular pay-TV networks.

The new service, which will be launched in August or September, will have a potential audience of about 5.2 million homes across the country. On a limited basis, Showtime already offers pay-per-view programming to about 350,000 homes subscribing to modern cable systems in Chicago, Houston, Dallas, St. Louis and a handful of other cities.

Modern cable systems in Southern California, including the CommuniCom system in Los Angeles and Valley Cable in the west San Fernando Valley, are also technologically capable of carrying the new Showtime network.

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Showtime announced no systems that had agreed to carry the new service, however, and there has been some skepticism among cable and pay-TV companies about pay-per-view.

Three weeks ago in a speech in Los Angeles, Michael J. Fuchs, chairman and chief executive of Home Box Office, called pay-per-view a “gimmick” with only a limited future.

Much of the impetus for pay-per-view has come from Hollywood studios, which have long viewed the technology as a means of increasing the audience for motion pictures.

Showtime’s Austrian said that at least one Hollywood studio had agreed to provide films to the new service, but Austrian refused to identify it.

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Times staff writer David T. Friendly contributed to this story from Los Angeles.


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