Looking at the cable bill last night made me think about the premium movie channels. It’s no secret that HBO is hurting for viewers right now. No more Sex and the City and The Sopranos created a void in HBO’s television programming. The TV shows that have taken their place, while they have a following, just don’t score as high in the ratings. There are several TV shows that I watch on premium networks, such as Dexter, True Blood, Entourage, and Californication. The problem is, in this economy, people are going to start cutting premiums out of their lives to save money. If they do cancel the service but enjoy the TV show, there is more incentive to pirate it or stream it from websites that host not-so-legal files. Here is my proposition to the premium networks: Stream the programs for free.

The major networks are streaming their content for free already. I know, I know, you don’t pay for the major networks, you do for HBO or Showtime. Let’s look at it in a different way. If HBO and Showtime started streaming their premium programs (shows, not movies) for free, but with limited commercial interruptions (just like the networks do on their respective sites), they could be reaching out to millions of more people and see additional revenue in new advertising. This is something they don’t see on their channels, as they do not show advertising. My theory is that most people don’t subscribe to a channel for one TV show. They also enjoy the other benefits the channel has to offer (other shows, new movies, sporting events, documentaries). If that channel starts streaming television shows I doubt you’d see people drop their subscription, and if you do, the amount that would would be far less than the amount you would gain by advertisements on the stream. I also think it could help them pick up subscribers. If people become interested enough in the shows to look at what else the channel has to offer, they could become new paying customers. I think it would be a smart move for the premium networks to look into this. Streaming content is not going away.