Ops, Panasonic Hype HD

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Panasonic and 10 major cable operators are kicking off an HDTV marketing campaign this week to entice consumers to upgrade to HD in time for NBC's coverage of the Summer Olympics in August — but none of the spots will run during the network's telecasts of the Olympic Trials this summer.

Panasonic is a worldwide sponsor of the International Olympic Committee, but NBC signed rival TV manufacturer Sony as the exclusive sponsor of its HDTV feed from the Athens Games, which will be distributed to NBC-owned stations and affiliates.

The network's exclusive deal with Sony will force Panasonic and the MSOs to use other media to market the “Make It a Panasonic High-Def Summer Promotion,” Comcast Corp. senior vice president Andy Addis said. NBC representatives declined to comment.

Panasonic and the top 10 MSOs said they would spend more than $10 million on the promotion, which offers consumers who buy one of 19 Panasonic HDTV sets and a digital or HDTV programming package from their local operator two $50 checks to help pay their cable bills.

The national campaign, part of the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing's “Only Cable Can” initiative, is similar to a promotion eight MSOs ran with Samsung in March touting CBS's coverage of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.

MSOs contributing cash and local ad-sales inventory for the Panasonic promotion are Comcast Corp., Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications Inc., Adelphia Communications Corp., Cablevision Systems Corp., Cox Communications Inc., Insight Communications Co. Inc., Mediacom Communications Corp., Cable One Inc. and Bright House Networks.

Addis sees NBC's coverage of the Olympics as a good opportunity to drive awareness of high-definition, as he expects many HDTV owners to watch the games with friends and family members that haven't yet shelled out money for the new TVs. “It's like a two-week Tupperware party,” he said.

CTAM wouldn't say how many consumers responded to the March promotion with Samsung, but Addis and Time Warner Cable vice president of marketing Brian Kelly each said their companies saw increased HDTV subscriber acquisition numbers that month.

“As a result of this Olympic promotion, I think we'll see another big jump in the [subscriber] numbers,” Kelly said.

Addis said Comcast and other MSOs hope to run several marketing campaigns with CE companies each year, plugging cable as the best way to watch high-profile HDTV programming events such as the Olympics.