In the early days of broadcast television, "Uncle
Miltie" Berle helped retailers to sell millions of televisions. These days, Tony
Soprano is giving cable operators a way to breathe life into the premium category.
Home Box Office announced last week that it will launch its
largest marketing program to date around a single television program in support of its hit
series, The Sopranos, which is set to open its second season Jan. 16.
Rather than simply driving tune-in, the marketing campaign
-- which launches in December and runs into February -- has been designed to drive
acquisitions for the premium network.
During the second run of the series' first season, "The
Sopranos became a cultural phenomenon," HBO executive vice president of marketing
Eric Kessler said.
There was so much buzz surrounding the show, operators
agreed, that former HBO subscribers came back to the fold and first-time pay customers
signed on just to keep up with the water-cooler chatter.
HBO's marketing team is challenged with driving
anticipation for the new season without giving away any of the plot line for the new
series, which started production about two months ago.
"Production is shrouded in a veil of secrecy,"
Kessler said, adding that the new ads won't include clips from the new episodes.
Kessler declined to disclose the marketing budget
surrounding the new season, but he said it was larger than that for hit miniseries From
the Earth to the Moon, which published reports put at $10 million.
In addition to an aggressive consumer ad campaign, HBO
plans to support the new Sopranos season with a comprehensive affiliate-marketing
effort that includes direct mail, telemarketing and customer-sales-agent incentives.
HBO will also help operators to coordinate local
promotional events. In the "Tony Soprano Waste Management Program," HBO will
retrofit trucks to look like garbage trucks, which can be used to draw consumer traffic to
local shopping malls. Operators will be encouraged to work with local radio stations to
help promote the events, perhaps giving out HBO T-shirts.
Kessler said it wasn't a hard sell to get operators
involved in the Sopranos campaign. "They knew this presents a tremendous
opportunity to start the new year off with a bang," he added. "People have
waited nine months for the new episode."
Comcast Corp.'s Comcast Cablevision of Delmarva Inc.
director of marketing Anthony Antonelli said the system currently promotes HBO's original
programming heavily in cross-channel spots. It doesn't hurt, he added, that he's a
personal fan of HBO's The Sopranos and Oz.
Antonelli was disappointed but not surprised that The
Sopranos got largely snubbed at the recent Emmy Awards in favor of network-broadcast
Emmys or not, however, there's no denying that the show has
been a runaway hit with fans and critics. "The hottest thing on television isn't on
network," Kessler said. "It's not even on basic cable -- it's on premium."