DBS Cranks Up Anti-Cable Ads

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Not content to add customers while cable is losing them, satellite-TV providers are ratcheting up new marketing campaigns that range from mocking cable’s customer service to promising cheaper programming and better sports packages.

Last week, DirecTV Inc. launched a series of spots with actors who, once told they get four months of its 205-channel Total Choice programming tier for buying the $249 “NFL Sunday Ticket” football package, say, “I must be dreaming.”

The long-awaited ads were produced by DirecTV’s new agency, BBDO.

In a spot DirecTV plans to introduce this week, executive vice president of marketing Neal Tiles said a prospective DirecTV subscriber and an installer fall to the earth as if they’d dropped from some unknown place in the sky.

The subscriber says, “Are you sure I’m not dreaming? Because I’m falling, and I’m kind of scared.” The DirecTV rep replies, “You’re dreaming, but the DirecTV part — that was real.”

Tiles said the new ads would run for eight weeks. DirecTV will place them on broadcast primetime and national cable networks in addition to local broadcast spot buys in New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Miami and Memphis.

DirecTV will employ a new strategy when it starts a series of branding and image spots in October — messages aimed at retaining customers, rather than signing up new subscribers with tempting offers.

After surpassing 13 million subscribers with the addition of 455,000 new customers during the second quarter, DirecTV is focused on keeping monthly churn at 1.4%, Tiles said.

CABLE STRIKES BACK

Some cable companies are firing back.

Time Warner Cable recently debuted a new spot featuring a frustrated satellite subscriber bashing his satellite dish with a hockey stick after having problems viewing HDTV. Those ads mostly run on Time Warner’s own systems, while DirecTV and EchoStar are flooding everyone’s airwaves with their campaigns.

Last week, EchoStar brought back a series of spots it first aired in June, depicting a fictitious cable customer-service representative fielding a phone call from a subscriber inquiring about a digital-cable upgrade. The CSR derides digital cable, saying there are higher costs, compared with satellite, and that special cable programming discounts don’t last more than a few months.

“We’re trying to educate the market,” EchoStar executive vice president of programming and marketing Michael Schwimmer said. “And cable customers, which are a good source of our new customers — both for us and DirecTV — should know that they get 100% digital channels with us and they don’t get that on cable; that they can get a [digital video recorder] with us for as little as $24.99; and that you can’t get a DVR with cable unless you’re a digital cable customer.”

DISH VS. CABLE

DirecTV doesn’t refer to cable at all in its new ads.

EchoStar — which famously compared cable companies to pigs in earlier ads — takes a more negative (if humorous) approach, aimed squarely at cable.

Comcast Corp. executive vice president of operations Dave Watson brushed off the new EchoStar spots: “The reaction we had was that it was kind of hard to comprehend how that would be something that would move the needle.”

The new EchoStar spots showed up shortly before the DBS company ranked No. 1 overall in customer satisfaction among cable and satellite customers in the new J.D. Power & Associates survey.

'EVIL DISH’ CAMPAIGN

Time Warner Cable, which lost 21,000 basic subscribers during the second quarter, debuted a new series of spots two weeks ago aimed at retaining its customer base. Internally, Time Warner refers to them as the “evil dish” campaign.

Last Thursday, chief marketing officer Chuck Ellis showed a reporter one spot that debuts this week, featuring a woman — a frightened satellite customer — standing in her garden, staring at the satellite dish on the roof.

“It’s almost is if the dish is controlling me,” says the woman, who earlier in the commercial laments that since her husband switched the family from cable to satellite, she misses movies on demand, HBO On Demand and “the ability to control what I watch, when I want to watch it.”

The Time Warner spots, produced by Philadelphia-based Red Tettemer, end with: “Don’t let satellite happen to you.”

Also in the works: a new “dish therapy” ad showing satellite subscribers sharing nightmare stories in a group therapy session with a satellite receiver in the middle of the room.

“One of the primary intentions of this was sort of to freeze cable customers, to say, 'Hey, there are things you ought to think about — the realities of dish and satellite — before you go there,’ ” Ellis said.

Time Warner is also bringing out a series of branding spots that, for the first time, promote its triple-play offering of digital cable, digital phone and Road Runner high-speed Internet service. Ellis said the spots would debut this fall.

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