Top Ops Snag Samsung For HD Marketing Blitz

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Rather than shelling out big bucks for their own marketing campaigns, several major cable operators say the best way to drive HDTV may be to ride the coattails of consumer-electronics companies.

Eight top MSOs announced an unusual marketing agreement with Samsung Electronics America Inc. in which Samsung will run both broadcast and cable spots in local markets, with the ads tailored for each local operator.

Samsung and the MSOs said they would spend at least $10 million on the campaign, which is geared toward coverage of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Men's Basketball Tournament on CBS, with the cable operators contributing both cash and local advertising inventory.

Ads tell consumers they'll get $100 in gift certificates to use toward paying cable bills if they buy a Samsung HDTV.

'A SINGLE VOICE'

"The reason today is somewhat unprecedented is that it's been difficult for us to partner with national players because we didn't act or speak with a single voice," Comcast senior vice president of marketing and new products Andy Addis said during a press conference here last Monday. "This initiative is really the first time that we're doing that."

In addition to Comcast, the MSOs that signed on for the campaign are Adelphia Communications Corp., Bright House Networks, Charter Communications Inc., Cox Communications Inc., Insight Communications Co., Mediacom Communications Corp. and Time Warner Cable.

Cablevision Systems Corp. was the only major MSO that didn't join the campaign. "Individual cable companies all had to decide whether to participate, and Cablevision chose not to," said Seth Morrison, senior vice president of marketing at the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing, which led the MSOs in crafting the marketing arrangement with Samsung.

Rainbow DBS, a Cablevision subsidiary, markets its Voom satellite HDTV service, which competes with cable operators, but Cablevision officials said its decision not to participate in the campaign didn't have anything to do with Voom. Spokesman Jim Maiella said the MSO would explore similar marketing concepts with other cable operators in the future.

TV SPOTS START TODAY

Television spots for the Samsung campaign were scheduled to begin running today (March 22), while a print campaign will kick off on March 26. Both campaigns will end on April 4.

The Samsung ads, tied to basketball, mark the second time in two months that cable operators are relying on broadcast content to drive cable HDTV set-tops and programming packages. Comcast, Cox, Adelphia and other operators ran HDTV ad campaigns in January tied to the CBS broadcast of the Super Bowl.

"Clearly broadcast fare is what consumers want the most — the major sporting events, the major primetime shows," Addis said last week. "And cable is actually in the position to best deliver the content to consumers without an antenna."

The campaign from Samsung and the eight MSOs will run against a campaign from EchoStar Communications Corp., which in January began selling EchoStar-branded HDTV sets manufactured by Phillips Electronics.

EchoStar is subsidizing the sets, offering subscribers a $999 package that includes an HDTV set-top and the choice of either a 34-inch tube type HD monitor or a 40-inch rear projection monitor.

MORE CHOICE

Samsung executives countered their offer is for the manufacturer's entire HD product line, ranging from a $599 26-inch HDTV monitor to models that cost more than $10,000.

"Nine hundred ninety-nine dollars — while that's a very attractive offer to the consumer, the one thing it leaves out is choice," said Samsung vice president of marketing Jim Sanduski.

Addis said the Samsung campaign marks a new strategy Comcast and other operators want to pursue: teaming up with consumer electronics companies to market cable products.

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