Through its Black History Month campaign called "A Journey to Today," Home Box Office will use grass-roots efforts and traditional marketing to build awareness for its original programming.
The premium service plans next month to highlight The Middle Passage
— an HBO Films production about the horrors of the trans-Atlantic slave trade — via university and museum screenings throughout the U.S., said HBO director of segment marketing Maria Weaver.
Following screenings at four universities, the network will also host panel discussions for students. Invitees — including professors, civil-rights activists and musicians — will vary by school.
Lumumba, another HBO Films production set to bow in February, tells the true story of the man who led the Congo to independence in 1960.
To help drive tune-in for the films, HBO next month will run an online sweepstakes, asking viewers to answer trivia questions in exchange for a chance to win a week-long trip to Africa. The winner will have a choice of itineraries in Kenya or Tanzania.
Weaver said HBO has received strong response from its affiliates, which will promote "A Journey to Today" through direct-mail campaigns and with cross-channel spots.
The network will also support Black History Month through ads in African American-targeted publications and radio stations.
Also next month, HBO will premiere Janet Jackson: In Concert from Hawaii
and Jamie Foxx: I Might Need Security.
Weaver would not disclose the campaign's budget, but said it was on par with other campaigns the network runs during the year.
"A lot of it is dictated by the programming," Weaver said. "This is a full effort."
Though Weaver said the network's Black History Month programming is "a celebration of our history," she noted that HBO's focus on African-American programming won't end when February does.
"The 'journey' will continue for HBO," Weaver said. "It's not a one-month celebration."
Many other cable networks also give the nod to Black History Month. Cable In the Classroom details much of that programming — and related educational support materials — on its Web site (www.ciconline.org).
Hallmark Channel is in the midst of a sweepstakes to support its 25th anniversary airing of the classic miniseries Roots. The sweepstakes — which encourages television viewers to investigate their own family histories — will award one winner a family reunion tailored to his or her ethnic heritage.