HBO Gets In the Game

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Think you know The Sopranos and Sex and the City? Try these questions on for size: Name Tony Soprano’s girlfriends during the mob dramedy’s first four seasons. And where did Carrie Bradshaw register for a wedding gift?

The answer to these and other questions can be found in game tins now rolling out into more retail outlets as part of Home Box Office’s first foray into the trivia-game ranks.

HBO has licensed the rights to its two biggest series hits to New York-based Cardinal Industries, Inc., which already has carved out a place for itself in this space through deals with Warner Bros. Consumer Products (Friends), Nickelodeon (Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite) and Twentieth Century-Fox (The Simpsons).

While HBO has built big ancillary revenue streams through video and DVD sales of its original series and films, HBO director of licensing Richard Oren said this is only the second time the premium channel has ventured into the gaming ranks: several years ago, an HBO Boxing video game was offered for Sony Corp.’s first PlayStation console. In addition to receiving undisclosed royalties from the sale of The Sopranos Trivia Game and Sex and the City Trivia Game — both of which carry suggested retail prices of $19.95 — HBO views the games as another way to further burnish the properties.

“These are great extensions of the brand,” said Oren. “These are products that provide fans with fun ways to relive their experiences with the shows.” He noted that the games have already sold well for retailers like drug store chain Walgreens and discounter Target when they debuted in early June — timed with Father’s Day for The Sopranos — and in July, in concert with the syndicated bow of Sex on sister service TBS.

Cardinal vice president of marketing Bonnie Canner said there had been “a terrific” consumer response to the HBO games during their initial rollouts. Now, the games are available in such outlets as Kohl’s, K-mart and Barnes & Noble. They will soon roll into the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, as well.

“Clearly, the biggest opportunity is in the fourth quarter with the holidays,” said Oren, noting that HBO plans to tout the games on online and through e-mail messages to the shows’ fans. Additionally, Oren said the games might benefit from “inserts or stickers” that could be included in video products.

“We may use cross-promotion with the home video department to create some marketing synergies,” he said.

In the fourth quarter, Canner said, the games will be positioned in end-cap and center-aisle displays at the various retailers, and will be flagged through attendant circulars. Moreover, Canner said Cardinal plans radio-station trivia contests in support of the games — a tactic that has proven to be successful with earlier TV show-licensed entries.

Next up, HBO will team with Cardinal on a Sopranos poker set that should make into stores in time for holiday 2004 and a Six Feet Under trivia game, which will hit retail sometime next year, according to Oren.

Questions for the Sex and the City game were penned by six writers from the series and players are also asked to act out various scenes to ultimately earn six lifestyle cards that win the game. In the Sopranos game, players “gamble” their way through questions, which come in five levels of difficulty. The player with the most chips after three rounds wins.

As to the questions posed earlier, the answers are Irina, Gloria, Valentina and Svetlana and Manolo Blahnik, respectively.

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