ESPN, Discovery Plug HD at Retail


Cable operators aren't the only industry players interested in using retail establishments to get the word out on HDTV.

Basic cable's biggest HDTV players, ESPN and Discovery Networks U.S., both have launched multifaceted retail promotions to prime the pump for HDTV adoption.

The efforts combine both education and sales initiatives, using each network's respective content to help push HDTV.

The total sports network has partnered with Best Buy and Philips Consumer Electronics Inc. for its inaugural year of ESPN HD service.

"They [Best Buy and Philips] are the official sponsors of ESPN HD," said Jeff Siegel, ESPN's vice president of affiliate ad sales and marketing. "They get signage on any new original telecast."

They're also buying ad time across other ESPN radio, web and magazine properties.

Trucking to town

"We're also able to bring it down to the affiliate level," Siegel added, since both Best Buy and Philips are spending money in local markets to help cable systems sell HDTV.

A version of ESPN the Truck that features an HDTV display will visit 50 markets this year, including Cox Communications Inc. and Insight Communications Co. systems where ESPN HD has been launched, said Siegel. The truck will park in Best Buy parking lots and provide customers with HDTV demos, information on HDTV set purchases and local cable system HD information.

"We're planning on launching in July at the Major League Baseball Home Run Derby contest," Siegel said. "This gives us the ability to brand ESPN HD with our affiliates."

ESPN's partnership with Best Buy goes beyond ad-sales sponsorship. The service gets play in Best Buy circulars, in-store shopping carts, public-address announcements and buttons for employees.

The channel also will have a video presence, Siegel said. Each month, ESPN will supply a 10-minute HDTV highlight tape that will air on Best Buy's in-store network in 528 locations.

Siegel also said ESPN plans to partner with MSOs for local events, perhaps tied to markets where ESPN plans to originate HD coverage of a particular Major League Baseball or National Football League game.

"We'll pick a dozen markets and do an overlay, customized with that cable operator," Siegel said. "That could include an athlete appearance, a talent appearance, or additional signage."

ESPN plans to create custom promotions with cable operators, retail stores and HD set manufacturers.

Sofa giveaway

In one market, ESPN is looking at a luxury-suite promotion. A sweepstakes would offer such prizes as a free couch, a free HDTV set and a catered party.

Discovery is following a similar course, but has the added benefit of showcasing HDTV in its Discovery Channel Stores.

"We're very committed to creating a national awareness of Discovery HD Theater," said Jody Rubin, vice president of affiliate marketing with Discovery Networks.

HDTV demonstrations, complete with Sony Corp. plasma TV sets and Discovery programming, are presently active in 20 stores. The goal is to reach 65 stores by year-end and the entire 170-store chain in 2004.

For Discovery, it's all about viewing the product.

"We think seeing is believing," Rubin said. "We feel we truly have the content that can drive HD sales."

Rubin said Discovery is supplying three- to five-minute HD clips to Circuit City and Best Buy stores, among other retail outlets. Sears is carrying a direct Discovery HD feed via Dish Network, which Sears sells in its stores. Rubin said HDTV set manufacturers also have asked for HD content from Discovery to help sell HD sets.

Animals on HD

HDTV demonstrations are also part of Discovery's on-the-road cable marketing activities. The network's "Animal Planet Expo" tour includes an HD Theater Dome, complete with Mitsubishi HDTV sets and Discovery's HD content. The tour will stop in 14 cities this summer and reach hundreds of thousands of consumers.

The Learning Channel's Junkyard Wars
also is on tour, and will feature HDTV displays with Pioneer Electronics Corp.

Rubin said Discovery is working with Cox on an HDTV promotion in Las Vegas. The two companies worked together to launch HDTV in Phoenix with a promotion built around the special James Cameron's Expedition: Bismarck.

"We did direct mail, placed ads in TV Guide, and produced online tools to create interest," Rubin said.

Rubin said Discovery also is working on a new more fully integrated, cross-channel HDTV spot for cable operators. The network also is working on an infomercial to help explain HDTV to consumers.

"There is a real need to demystify HD to the average consumer," Rubin said.