'Sopranos’ Goes Out With a Bang

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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 on a multimedia promotional campaign. Plus, the network is collaborating with distributors on a host of video-on-demand, high-definition, 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,” said vice president of affiliate marketing and product strategy Bernadette Aulestia. “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 from April 6 to 10; has enlisted show talent for commercials with affiliate identifications that urge viewers to tune in; and will run interactive spots across different channels on distributors’ systems. Talent for tune-in spots includes: Michael Imperioli (Christopher Moltisanti), Lorraine Bracco (Dr. Melfi), Tony Sirico (Paulie Walnuts) and Jamie-Lynn Sigler (Meadow Soprano).

Online, there will be affiliate co-branded microsites, replete with gaming, video content and co-branded acquisition messages; 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 his New York Sidewalkers band in New York City.

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 describes 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 on-demand video, 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 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 attends its premiere.

Plans call for the HBO-produced making of Cleaver and a scene from the faux film to appear on Comcast’s Fearnet.com

“We started working with HBO on multiplatform marketing for Rome. This is a continuing evolution of that process with more content,” said Thompson. “For the last season of The Sopranos, we want to go out with all guns blazing.”

To get the message out, Comcast is running a “Sopranos Heaven” spot, featuring former cast member Vincent Pastore (Big Pussy) in the operator’s top 10 markets. The spot shows Pastore walking past cannoli trees and scantily clad women gyrating on street poles. The message being: HBO on Demand is the place to catch up on all things Sopranos.

Aulestia noted that given the breadth of fare HBO began working about six months earlier than normal with its partners: “We wanted to let our affiliates choose the promotions that work for them.”

To that end, here’s how four other operators plan to help send New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) to the fishes:

  • Charter.net will showcase short-form content during the promotional window for both The Sopranos and Hollywood buddy series Entourage, which is leading out of the mob series.
  • Cablevision Systems’ Optimum Rewards loyalty program has worked with HBO to create a sweepstakes in which the grand prize includes a pair of tickets to the March 27 premiere of The Sopranos at Radio City Music Hall, passes to the after-party and limo service. Fifty runners-up will visit HBO’s offices for a screening, attended by cast member.
  • As part of HBO’s role as Cox Communications Net of the Month partner in March and April, there are Sopranos video and offer pages on both Cox.com and Cox.net. Users can order the service online and receive a $25 American Express gift card.
  • Corporate sibling Time Warner Cable has leveraged a broadband trivia sweepstakes contest for the Radio City event, while its RoadRunner broadband service will deliver short-form content. Additionally, during the free preview, the operator will run impulse-upgrade acquisition spots enabling viewers to order HBO via their remote controls.

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