Showtime May Need More Puff for ''Huff''

All TV series need plenty of marketing huff and puff before blowing any big ratings down.

Now Showtime is looking to breathe heavy into a new series called "Huff" starring Hank Azaria, who plays a psychiatrist whose life alters drastically after a tragedy occurs with one of his patients. The pay TV network is spending more money - multimillions in marketing dollars - than it has ever spent on a TV series.

It's assumed from press reports that the bulk of its pre-launch marketing impressions are coming from sister network CBS, where Showtime will benefit from primetime promotional/advertising inventory. TV commercials for the show will run on CBS from Nov. 1 through the premiere on Nov. 7.

Showtime is also spending lots of advertising on local cable, print, Internet, radio, and outdoor, as well as on public relations efforts. But nothing is as valuable to the network as that primetime CBS inventory.



The question is - why now? And why not with other Showtime shows of the past? Did "The Larry Sanders Show" get this much promotional time when it was the identifiable show on Showtime some years ago? How come "The L Word" --- a current series about contemporary lesbians in Los Angeles - doesn't get the same kind of marketing push?

Perhaps Viacom is moving into a new age of true corporate media synergy - something big media conglomerates were assumed to have provided for all its TV venues and programs. Should we now expect to see UPN shows promoted on CBS? Surely all Viacom companies could use a turn.

A big Viacom boat can float all ships.

This is not to say Viacom hasn't done its share from time to time. CBS has aired music specials where sister cable networks MTV and VH1 have participated. "Late Show With David Letterman" regularly promotes Viacom-distributed shows such as "Dr. Phil" and "The Oprah Winfrey"- with comic segments.

Given the increasing difficultly in launching any TV show - especially on broadcast television - there's no doubt Showtime's effort to produce a big budgeted TV show would go nowhere without marketing support from one of the biggest marketing tools at its disposal: Sister company CBS.

But it shouldn't just start and stop with the launch of the show. Modest-sized cable shows such as "Huff" need marketing messages from CBS throughout the season.

Yes, there are marketing economics at play here - Showtime isn't the biggest cable network, and CBS can only devote so much time of its valuable inventory.

Yet, if Viacom really wants to boost Showtime - which has less than half the subscribers of competitor HBO - it needs to drive more viewers to its pay TV network.

Showtime needs a little more puff for "Huff" - which should be enough.

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