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Free preview is a term, most commonly used by cable television, referring to when cable systems offer a pay-TV service to customers for free for a short period of time.


HBO first created this concept when the network was on 14 systems in New Yorkmarker and Pennsylvaniamarker by 1973 (a year after its launch) and the subscriber churn rate was exceptionally high. Subscribers would sample the service for a few weeks, eventually becoming weary of seeing the same films, and then cancel their subscription. HBO struggled because of this and something had to be done. When HBO first signed on in Lawrence, Massachusettsmarker, the idea was to allow subscribers to preview the service for free on channel 3. After a month, the service moved to channel 6 and was scrambled. The preview proved popular, obtaining many subscriptions.

Soon after, HBO and other premium cable services began offering occasional free previews of their services in order to entice cable customers into subscribing to that specific service. These free previews usually lasted from Friday to Sunday (which in recent years, has changed to Friday to Monday), airing on the weekends when many people have more freed up schedules and are more able to watch. The free previews offered each premium service to be observed as is, with no editing whatsoever, to the consternation of parents whose children may observe certain programming with graphic violence, nudity, sexual content and/or coarse language (if channel blocking wasn't activated) since these free previews usually aired on local origination channels on basic cable and on satellite, the premium services would be descrambled to broadcast these programs.

Many cable systems offered additional incentive to get people to subscribe to premium services such as offering prizes and free trips. One such example was Cox Communications, which for several years broadcast "free preview updates", which featured promos, prize giveaways and behind-the-scenes information in-between programs, from Walt Disney Worldmarker in Orlandomarker before moving to the MGM Grand in Las Vegasmarker in 1999. These updates commonly offered prize giveaways including nightly drawings to win trips to where the free preview was taking place. Other cable systems did similar things to this.

In recent years, however, the free preview concept has become somewhat less common on premium cable services as many have only run one free preview weekend a year (those that do now often air them from Friday through Monday, as previously mentioned) and only deciding whether of not to offer free previews on a year-to-year basis. Most cable systems have stopped producing free preview updates as premium channels (with the exception of HBO) have been removed from basic cable and have been moved to digital cable, where all premium services, when one does air a free preview, will descramble each service to air each service's own free preview schedule with that network's updates and promos. Free previews are still common with cable television as some on-demand services, pay-per-view sports packages and select digital cable channels occasionally offer free previews, sometimes airing for as long as a week to two weeks.

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