It’s not surprising that HBO and Showtime finally announced that they’ll be offering subscription services independent of long-standing relationships with cable TV providers. There are millions of households in the US, and many more around the globe, that have broadband access but no cable. And generational shifts, combined with the proliferation of relatively cheap bandwidth, point to those numbers growing. Additionally, tracking of pirated content over the last year indicates that shows such as HBO’s Game of Thrones have a massive level of interest, much broader than those with licensed access.
Although the specifics of how these offerings will be sold and implemented are still being worked out, an interesting component to their success, and one that Rupert Murdoch recently commented on, is how they will be marketed. Not only will this disruption force new partnerships to be established — potentially with companies such as Microsoft, Apple, and Roku — but tried-and-true campaign tactics will need to be rethought. The audience, by its nature, is natively digital, so the marketing teams at HBO and Showtime need to re-write their playbooks.
While initial tactics have been quite traditional, with a push via PR and media outlets, the marketing of these services will need to embrace an almost exclusively digital strategy in order to be successful...ditching co-marketing and broad-reaching TV spots for discrete, targeted campaigns. Remember, HBO and Showtime derive a large part of their distribution and revenue from the cable providers, and although they will now be competitive, cannibalizing those relationships will not be good for anyone. By creating highly targeted campaigns that leverage new digital media channels, HBO and Showtime can be both protective and entrepreneurial.
But where to start, and how to get there? In looking at the recent marketing from both companies, not surprisingly, the lion’s share of activity in the direct-to-consumer realm has been focused on education and promotion of their different shows. In fact, a brief look at Social, Search, and Display marketing shows that the only direct-response messaging for either company is related to pay-per-view sporting events. This, I suspect, will change in a significant way. In contrast to HBO and Showtime, when doing a similar analysis of Amazon Instant Video and Netflix, there were dozens of communications with strong direct-response calls to action.
Beyond Social, Search, and banner-based Display content, a natural place where HBO and Showtime can shine is with pre-roll digital video advertising. Although arguably the most expensive option, I believe that the nature of the audience will command a significant focus from both companies.
As a consumer, I am excited about the impending disruption of cable TV channel stuffing. As a marketer, however, I am even more excited about watching how two wildly successful brands take on the delicate dance of opening up a competitive, direct-to-consumer model without sacrificing their current distribution partners. Who knows, we may be witnessing the tipping point with respect to the promise of ubiquitous anytime programming. If so, I’m buying!