Did you think the Passbook on your iPhone (S AAPL) was just for movie tickets and airline boarding passes? Think again: Showtime is now using Apple’s mobile wallet, as well as Google (S GOOG) Wallet on Android phones, to market its new horror series Penny Dreadful. Showtime’s Penny Dreadful fan pass doesn’t come with a bar code or a loyalty code, and you won’t be able to get any rebates with it, but it automatically lets you know when new content for the show is available online. “It’s kind of like a mini app,” explained Ken Todd, Showtime’s VP of digital content syndication and mobile development, during an interview at the Cable Show in Los Angeles this week.
The network is now thinking about taking the passbook experience even further by adding geofencing elements to it. Come close to one of the giant billboards that are promoting Penny Dreadful in Los Angeles and New York these days, and an alert for it would automatically pop up on your phone’s lock screen. Todd told me that his team at Showtime stunned folks at Apple, who told him that they never anticipated someone using Passbook like this.
Finding creative new uses for mobile wallets is only one way Showtime is promoting new shows like Penny Dreadful. The network recently also made headlines by releasing the entire first episode of the show on YouTube, Hulu, Yahoo (S YHOO) and other online platforms before it premieres on TV. Showtime has been doing these online premieres for a few years now, and Todd told me that they have been “very successful” for the network.
For other shows, Showtime occasionally decided to publish edited versions online that wouldn’t contain too much foul language, but Todd said that for Penny Dreadful, this just wouldn’t have worked. Instead, viewers now have to sign in to YouTube or any other site they’re watching the episode on and confirm that they are 18 or over. “That supresses viewing,” admitted Todd.
Of course, the question is whether viewers will even bother to watch a show’s season premiere on TV if they have also seen it on YouTube or elsewhere — instead, they might simply wait for the second episode to air. Todd told me he doesn’t think that digital premieres eat into Showtime’s ratings. “All indicators seem to be no,” he said.