HDTV’s Newest Selling Point: Football

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DirecTV Inc. and major cable companies are all making football the centerpiece of new marketing campaigns aimed at selling high-definition programming packages and televisions.

But while rightsholder DirecTV will feature shots from National Football League games in a $15 million HDTV ad campaign that it plans to kick off this week with Samsung Consumer Electronics America Inc., sources said the cable industry would be forced to use generic football images in a similar campaign that it plans to launch next month with Sony Corp.

DirecTV is the exclusive distributor of the “NFL Sunday Ticket” out-of-market game package, and the direct-broadcast satellite firm is using the popular service not only to woo cable subscribers to satellite, but to drive sales of HDTV programming packages to both existing subscribers and new customers.

BLITZ FOR DBS

Samsung — which teamed up with cable companies in March to offer consumers who bought a Samsung HDTV $100 in checks that could be used to pay their cable bills — announced its partnership with DirecTV last week.

The joint DirecTV-Samsung ad blitz features a glossy, 14-page direct mail piece that went out to likely HDTV buyers in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco.

DirecTV is also using its cross-channel inventory to run 60-second spots touting its football-heavy HDTV offering and Samsung TVs, and Samsung is running an online marketing push touting more than $500 in savings on DirecTV HDTV receivers, programming and Samsung HDTVs.

New DirecTV subscribers that buy the $249 annual “Sunday Ticket” package and DirecTV’s high-definition programming tier will get four free months of DirecTV’s Total Choice Premiere with Local Channels package and six free months of DirecTV’s HD programming package. The companies are also offering new and existing DirecTV customers $100 off a Samsung-DirecTV HD receiver if they buy any Samsung HDTV for $999 or more, in addition to the six months free of DirecTV’s HD programming package.

CTAM LURES SONY

The DirecTV-Samsung offer runs through the end of October, coinciding with the beginning of the cable-Sony marketing campaign, which sources said will run from October through January.

In the cable marketing campaign, which is being driven by the Cable & Telcommunications Association for Marketing, consumers will be offered $100 in discounts on their cable bill if they purchase a Sony HDTV. The television portion of the ad campaign will feature generic images of football players, encouraging viewers to buy a Sony HDTV and cable HDTV package in order to watch gridiron action.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said that as part of its “Sunday Ticket” distribution agreement, DirecTV is allowed to use the NFL brand in its campaigns, but that cable operators wouldn’t be permitted to use the league’s trademarks in the Sony campaign. One executive familiar with Sony’s upcoming effort said operators believe they can still effectively market cable as the best way to watch football and other programming in high definition without incorporating the NFL brand into its spots.

PANASONIC PRECEDENT

It’s not the first time that the cable industry has run an HDTV marketing campaign without backing from a key sports rights holder. An Only Cable Can ad campaign 10 major operators ran with Panasonic this summer — which encouraged consumers to buy an HDTV to watch the Olympics in high-definition — featured generic track and field video, and Olympics broadcaster NBC wouldn’t run any of the spots in Olympics-themed programming because of an exclusive HDTV sponsorship deal it had with Sony.

CTAM officials declined to comment for the record last week on the upcoming HDTV promotion, and executives at Sony didn’t return phone calls.

Both satellite and cable companies are continuing to push to expand relationships with CE manufacturers to share the cost of marketing HDTV programming and hardware.

“There’s a realization among all of us, the satellite and cable companies on one side and CE manufacturers on the other, that there’s an incentive for both of us to work together, because we need each other, quite frankly,” said Jim Sanduski, vice president of marketing for Samsung’s Visual Display Products Group.

PRICE TAGS

“Our hardware doesn’t sell unless we have high-definition content to show on it, and cable and satellite can’t sell their subscriptions unless there is hardware out there that can display the quality of the service they’re beaming,” Sanduski added.

Earlier this year, Samsung and CTAM officials pegged the value of the cable-Samsung Only Cable Can at about $10 million. The Samsung-DirecTV campaign is valued at $15 million. DirecTV vice president of acquisition marketing Steve Brister said the DBS provider and Samsung are targeting consumers who are already considering buying an HDTV with their ad campaign.

“The type of consumer we’re targeting is out there shopping,” Brister added.

Brister said the Samsung promotion helps counter similar marketing deals cable operators have cut with CE companies, and that DirecTV would look to sign similar agreements with other vendors that distribute DirecTV hardware.

“Obviously one of the reasons that cable has started pursuing this avenue is being behind DirecTV in terms of retail distribution,” Brister said. “We’ve been in retail since the beginning, and we wanted to answer some of the [cable] inroads there with this promotion.”

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