What's the toughest TV demo to attract? Try 18- to 34-year-old men. Which is why the new HBO comedy series Entourage
is using a novel technology to lure them. The network gave away the first 18 minutes of the show's premiere on limited-play DVDs.
HBO distributed 80,000 discs, which expire two days after being opened, at parties and clubs nationwide. Developed by Flexplay Technologies, the DVDs provide a sneak peek at the rowdy-but-glam life of hot actor Vince Chase and his lovable but less successful friends. If viewers wanted the second half of the Entourage
debut, they had to tune in July 18.
"We were primarily going after 18- to 34-year-olds, but they're a difficult target to reach," says Courteney Monroe, HBO's senior vice president for advertising. "We knew that, if we could just get some of the program into the hands of this audience, they'd be hooked."
So for six weeks this summer, HBO street teams tracked down the elusive demo at various sites, including film festivals and VIP events.
DVDs crossed the velvet rope at the Avalon Hollywood nightclub in Los Angeles, eight House of Blues venues and parties sponsored by magazines Maxim
and GQ. The discs even made their way onto the Hampton Jitney, a coach service connecting New York City to glitzy beaches and parties in the Hamptons.
The Flexplay disc helped HBO create a clever—and portable—promotional item. And it behaves exactly like a standard DVD, with a key exception.
After its vacuum-sealed plastic packaging is opened, oxygen-sensitive dye inside the disc slowly turns the readable surface from red to black over 48 hours. For two days, the disc can be played an unlimited number of times without loss of video or audio quality. Once the disc turns black, the show is erased. The good news: The disc can be recycled.
Flexplay developed the disc with rental and promotional markets in mind. Company co-founder and chairman Yannis Bakos, a New York University business professor, sees the discs as a cool—and secure—marketing tool.
"It's a technology that can be used for promotion because of its novelty," says Bakos, "Also, it's a way to give away content that you wouldn't give away if it didn't expire."
For the past two years, limited-play DVDs were distributed at MTV's Video Music Awards Latin America. In 2002, a 36-hour DVD accompanied the press kit for MGM's James Bond film Die Another Day. A "letter" from Bond gadget-whiz Agent Q read: "Once removed from its packaging, the DVD will self-destruct in 36 hours!"
Flexplay isn't the only company to produce a limited-play DVD. One of the first, Circuit City's Digital Video Express, known as Divx, required a special DVD player. Divx folded in 1999.
That same year, Bakos and another business-school professor, MIT's Erik Brynjolfsson, founded Flexplay. "We decided that our technology should work with any player in the market," says Bakos.
"The way to achieve this would be through a chemical technology rather than an electronic technology," says Bakos. He credits the ingenuity of the company's chemists, engineers and executives for Flexplay's viability and ease of use.
Of course, HBO is not its sole customer. Disney's Buena Vista Home Entertainment is using Flexplay technology to test a limited-play rental service called EZ-D. Hoping to capture part of the $4.5 billion DVD-rental market, EZ-Ds are sold for $5.99 at 7-Eleven stores and other convenience outlets in eight markets.
For HBO, though, the beauty was in the volume. Monroe says the Flexplay disc allowed the cable network to give away an unprecedented amount of content to potential viewers. "That [the DVDs] were a little bit more protective of this content was really appealing."