On HBO, war is hype
Cable network unveils its biggest marketing campaign for Band of Brothers
By Allison Romano -- Broadcasting & Cable, 8/12/2001 8:00:00 PM
HBO is rolling out its most expensive marketing campaign ever to push World War II original mini-series Band of Brothers, spending as much to promote it as Hollywood studios spend to hype some movies. The cable offering is based on historian Stephen Ambrose's book chronicling the Army's Easy Company paratrooper unit. HBO says the campaign for the drama will cost north of $10 million, and industry sources peg costs closer to $15 million, slightly less than the marketing budget for a Hollywood movie with a similar price tag. It's more than the net spent on promotions for The Sopranos, Sex and the City and Tom Hanks' From the Earth to the Moon.
Production costs for the 10-part series, which gets star power from executive producers Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, ran about $125 million—the level of a typical feature-length movie, although most movies, of course, are only about two hours long. Still, the result is a production value that's unsurpassed on television, says HBO marketing chief Eric Kessler, and so is the promotion.
"We wanted to create a sense that this is ubiquitous," Kessler explains, looking toward the series' Sept. 9 premiere. "Everywhere you look, you see Band of Brothers. We want people to say, 'That looks big, important, powerful, and I need to see that.'"
The Hollywood-sized marketing budget contrasts with the $1 million to $1.5 million industry execs say cable nets spend promoting their originals. TNT's recent Mists of Avalon miniseries reportedly had a marketing budget worth $8 million, but TNT sources say the net didn't spend close to that sum and that most of the value came from free ads on sister AOL Time Warner properties.
It's hard to imagine NBC's spending $10 million to promote a new fall sitcom, such as Emeril . As a pay network, though, HBO has a different agenda. About 25% of its subscribers exit every year, and that's excluding those who relocate. Subscribers who leave complain that they don't see enough value in pay TV. So HBO's ad campaigns aim not only to entice new subscribers but also to keep the ones it has. Subscribers typically pay $12 to $16 on top of their basic-cable costs for a premium package that includes HBO.
According to Nielsen Media Research, HBO currently has about 33 million subs. Kagan World Media pegs the number lower—at 25.3 million. Nielsen's numbers consider households that receive HBO, regardless of how they receive service, while Kagan tracks paying subscribers.
Band of Brothers art will be plastered on billboards and print and TV ads. HBO is taking out an eight-page insert, printed on distinctive hard-stock paper, in Vanity Fair, Entertainment Weekly and Time. The network also plans to send out 50 million pieces of direct mail.
HBO previewed the premiere episode on the beaches of Normandy last spring. For its television debut, the net is screening the series in the hometowns of 20 veterans from Band of Brothers' Easy Company.
Some marketing strategies prove more valuable than others, says Comcast Cable Senior Director of Marketing Jane Bulman.
"The best way to sell TV is on TV," she says. "It's even more effective when you time it with direct mail and telemarketing."
HBO also is heavily cross-promoting Band with several AOL Time Warner properties. America Online users can watch "Webisode" clips from the series. TBS is running war movies on Monday nights in the fall along with Band's behind-the-scenes footage. And TNT is featuring a WWII documentary the weekend of the series' premiere. Time Life's publishing arm is creating a companion book for students to study WWII in conjunction with the special.
Most MSOs have put their mark on the Band of Brothers material and will carry out the campaign at the system level.
The main targets for new subscriptions are older Americans and families. HBO hopes Band of Brothers will illustrate the net's quality—rather than controversial—programming.
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