Pan-European Pay TV Giant Sky Strikes Exclusive Deal for Showtime Programming

Billions S01E01 Still - H 2015
JoJo Whilden/Showtime

Billions S01E01 Still - H 2015

The company's Sky Atlantic network, which also features HBO hits, will become the home of 'Billions' and other Showtime content in Sky's five European markets.

Pan-European pay TV giant Sky and CBS Corp. on Thursday unveiled a long-term licensing agreement for Sky Atlantic to become the exclusive home of Showtime’s portfolio of programming across Sky's five European markets, namely the U.K., Ireland, Germany, Austria and Italy.

Previously, Sky has licensed select Showtime content on a program-by-program basis. The Sky Atlantic network also features HBO hits, such as Game of Thrones.

Financial terms and the exact length of the contract weren't disclosed, but the companies emphasized it was a "long-term" deal, with one source saying it was running for more than three years.

Sky has competed for content with the likes of Netflix, Amazon and John Malone's European cable giant Liberty Global, and the deal further strengthens its positioning as a provider of high-quality U.S. content.

The deal will span all new and future Showtime series, including Billions, which premiered in the U.S. with the best series debut performance ever for a Showtime original.

Other series covered include the return of Twin Peaks and new seasons of such established hits as Ray Donovan and The Affair. The agreement also means customers will have on-demand access to catalog titles, including Californication, Dexter and Nurse Jackie.

CBS Corp. said this marks "the largest and most expansive international deal to date for Showtime and the first time its content portfolio has been licensed to a single media company across multiple European territories." It also marks a next step in the company’s global expansion strategy to distribute Showtime’s brand and programming slate as a bundled offering. Last year, CBS and Bell Media struck a similar exclusive agreement for Canada.

The deal is the latest multi-territory agreement for Sky, in which 21st Century Fox owns a 39 percent stake. "The exclusive relationship with Showtime builds on Sky’s position as the leading partner for U.S. content creators in Europe," Sky said. "Alongside an expanding portfolio of the best shows from the U.S. and around the world, Sky is also growing its investment in original production, which includes a successful partnership with Showtime to co-produce the gothic horror series Penny Dreadful."

The recent international deals struck by Showtime have become possible as the company nowadays owns about 80 percent of its original programming.

Armando Nunez, president & CEO of the CBS Global Distribution Group, said: "This is the most significant international deal in the history of Showtime and further signals the value and prestige of its content brand in the global marketplace." He added: "This deal shows how robust and profitable Showtime has become as a stand-alone product and revenue stream."

Gary Davey, managing director, content at Sky, said: "This is one of the most important content deals Sky has ever agreed, cementing Sky’s position as the market leader in Europe for world-class drama."

Nunez also told THR: "It is an important deal for both companies, both financially and strategically, and we couldn't be more thrilled." Asked about the importance of covering multiple markets, he said: "You are seeing more and more a globalization of our business. And Sky has been an important partner for Showtime content, and this takes our relationship to a different level."

More Showtime content deals abroad are widely expected. "Stay tuned," Nunez would only say on Thursday. But he said Showtime will consider various business models for the distribution of Showtime programming in international markets and pick the one that fits each market, including OTT services. "We chose this particular path to monetize with a partner like Sky," he said. "There are plenty of other territories in the world where we are potentially looking at a direct-to-consumer offering. But it is a question of what's the best opportunity to monetize the content and what is the best strategic opportunity, and those two are linked."