HBO Puts Muscle Behind Sopranos

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As the final nine episodes of cable TV’s biggest series draw nigh, it’s only fitting that HBO is sending The Sopranos and its affiliates off with a big bang -- and a cleaver.

The premium programmer plans to spend millions of dollars on a multimedia promotional campaign. Plus, the network is collaborating with distributors on a host of video-on-demand, HD, broadband, Internet, interactive initiatives and consumer sweepstakes to build buzz before The Sopranos fires its final original shots, beginning April 8 at 9 p.m. Part of the plan: a behind-the-scenes look at the movie that Tony Soprano’s nephew has long wanted to make, called Cleaver.

“Our affiliates have always done well with Sopranos-driven campaigns,” vice president of affiliate marketing and product strategy Bernadette Aulestia said. “This is certainly the biggest finale in HBO history, so we’re setting the promotional bar several steps higher on a cross-platform basis.”

On-air, HBO plans a free preview April 6-10; it enlisted show talent for commercials with affiliate identifications that urge viewers to tune in; and it will run interactive spots across different channels on distributors’ systems.

Online, there will affiliate co-branded microsites, replete with gaming, video content and co-branded acquisition messages; and 20 short-form content pieces providing weekly episodic previews, behind-the-scenes segments and cast interviews. A “Whack-a-Soprano: The Final Whack” sweepstakes game at HBO.com will offer a trip to see Dominic Chianese (Uncle Junior) perform with the New York Sidewalkers in New York.

On the on-demand front, there is a recap of the first half of the sixth and final season of the David Chase series under the title of “Mob Minutes”; a death montage, which Comcast senior vice president and general manager of video services Page Thompson described as “a memoriam for characters no longer with us”; and music from the series, among other features.

If not quite providing the sustenance of a veal parm from the show’s Satriale’s Pork Store, Aulestia believes these three- to five-minute “snacking pieces” will whet the appetite of fans. “We wanted to offer unexpected things to help create a swell of excitement for the premiere and this final season,” she said.

Not surprisingly, Comcast -- the industry’s foremost proponent of VOD -- is tapping these elements heavily, as well as a trio of HD on-demand components as part of its commitment to supplying 100 hours of free enhanced fare per month: an invitation to the set; a sneak preview of the final installments; and a short film about the making of a fictional movie related to the show called Cleaver, which will appear on FEARnet on Demand.

Cleaver is the film, billed in the show’s 72nd episode, “Luxury Lounge,” as a cross between slasher movies and The Godfather developed by Christopher Moltisanti, the nephew of Tony Soprano played by Michael Imperioli. During the April 15 installment, “Stage 5,” the Sopranos crew attend a premiere for the movie.

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