Cablers Team to Thwart Satellite

Apr 4, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Cable operators increasingly are pooling their marketing resources to promote big high-definition TV events, all in an attempt to combat strong marketing efforts by satellite distributors DirecTV and EchoStar.

Since promoting HD broadcasts of NBC’s Summer Olympics last August, many cable operators-led by Comcast Cable-have begun cooperating on similar creative messages, which are then customized for each MSO.

The pace has picked up recently, with cable marketing spots being shared to tout HD broadcasts of ABC’s “Monday Night Football” and Academy Awards, Fox’s Daytona 500 and CBS’s Masters golf tournament and NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

“The big paradigm shift for the MSOs is that they are starting to realize they are entertainment brands, not [just] positioning themselves as utility brands when talking about programming,” said Jeff Boortz, president of Concrete Pictures, a Philadelphia-based advertising company that has done promo work for Comcast Cable.

Concrete Pictures’ recent creative work touting HD programs for Comcast has been shared with other cable companies such as Adelphia, Charter and Cox.

“We call it the tentpole strategy,” Mr. Boortz said. “It’s a call to action.” By that he means rather than airing general-interest commercials promoting cable’s diversity of channels or improved technology, call-to-action spots promote specific programming events such as the NCAA Basketball Tournament or the World Series in an effort to lure consumers to sign up for HDTV packages.

“Usually, sports is what drives the purchase of the HD sets,” Mr. Boortz said.

Because Concrete’s clients are cable system operators, it initially had a difficult time getting footage of sporting events such as the Daytona 500 or the NBA Finals from the broadcast networks. Broadcast networks don’t typically work with cable operators, since they are viewed as competition.

But Mr. Boortz said that after some negotiation the agency now gets sports footage, having convinced the broadcast networks that cable operators would be helping to promote broadcast network programming.

Concrete Pictures promo spots start and end with an “HDTV on Demand” logo. Sports footage is inserted in between the logos. At the end of the spot the cable system logo is shown with the HDTV logo.

Charter Communications is using Concrete Pictures’ work as a template for its monthly effort to promote HDTV. It won’t always follow Comcast to the letter in selecting the same program to promote. For example, starting in April it will tout ESPN’s HD programming.

“But when there are events such the Final Four or the Daytona 500, those are events we will be promoting,” said Kim Blankenburg, director of branding and creative services for Charter Communications. “Our main purpose is to get topical-that if you want to see this program in HD, there is sense of urgency to sign on.”

“Concrete Pictures developed a graphic package for big-event HD promotion, and we followed the same structure as Comcast’s,” she said. “It would be the same as if we went to the same editing facility.”

Marketing experts think cable operators’ regional and local marketing efforts are sometimes less effective than national campaigns, especially against the strong national advertising campaigns of DirecTV and EchoStar.

The push for coordinated marketing efforts among MSOs came from Andy Addis, Comcast Cable senior VP of marketing and new Products, who left the company in January. Comcast executives wouldn’t comment about any shared marketing efforts at press time.

Since last fall CTAM’s “Only Cable Can” marketing initiative has been heavily involved in pushing these joint marketing sales efforts.