Showtime sets shop search for $35 mil media account

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Viacom's Showtime Networks is shopping around.

The subscriber cable TV network is on the hunt for a media shop to handle its estimated $25 million to $35 million account. Young & Rubicam's Media Edge, New York, currently handles the business.

"We are going to be looking at other options," said Len Fogge, exec VP-creative advertising and marketing for Showtime.

Creative will remain at Showtime's in-house agency, the Red Group, he added. Red Group handles all TV, print and radio advertising for Showtime, The Movie Channel and Flix.

MOUNTING A DEFENSE?

Media Edge management hadn't decided whether to defend the account, according to an executive close to the agency.

Prior to joining Showtime in 1996, Mr. Fogge was president of Grey Entertainment, a unit of the recently rechristened Grey Global Group. Grey's MediaCom unit, New York, along with a handful of other media shops, is said to have been invited to pitch the business.

Showtime also works with Y&R's Luminant, a smaller agency that handles the client's integrated accounts. Y&R, which hasn't handled creative for Showtime since the mid-'90s, does some ad traffic work for the network, but doesn't work on any creative or strategic development.

As Showtime seeks a new media agency, its main opponent, Time Warner's HBO, has enjoyed a high profile -- both on the advertising and programming fronts. HBO's "The Sopranos" and "Sex & the City" have received rave reviews, as have HBO's humorous ads from BBDO Worldwide, New York. In fact, a BBDO spot featuring chimps lip-synching lines from famous movies won the first-ever Emmy award given for a prime-time commercial.

Showtime is a pay-TV service with 22 million subscribers that has competed directly with HBO since the late 1970s. HBO has 35.7 million subscribers.

In recent years, Showtime has also contended with other pay-TV networks such as Starz Encore Group. Showtime has branded itself with the theme "No limits," created by Red Group.

NICHE EXPANSION

The network has also expanded in recent years into more niche movie channels -- such as Showtime Beyond for sci-fi and horror films, and Showtime Extreme for action-oriented movies.

Showtime has tried to keep pace against HBO in series programming such as "Stargate: SG-1" and "Beggars & Choosers." The network's Showtime Entertainment Television pay-per-view boxing events have also been a hit with viewers and have made money, even though HBO has higher-profile events.

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