CTAM Summit 05: Preaching the Gospel of HD

Jul 25, 2005  •  Post A Comment

When it comes to high-definition television, the bad news is a lot of people with HD sets still haven’t signed up for HD programming. The good news is that cable operators and networks are in full-tilt acquisition mode to get those customers on board.

Cox and Comcast both are planning HD marketing campaigns for later this year; while networks including FSN, ESPN and Discovery HD Theater are spreading the word about HD programming to lay the groundwork for the all-important fourth-quarter HD-buying season.

The marketing challenges for cable operators and programmers are relatively simple: Let consumers know about their HD offerings in order to close that gap. After all, about 13 million homes have HD-capable sets, but only one-third of those are receiving HD programming, according to the Leichtman Research Group.

Here’s a look at how networks and programmers are disseminating the HD message.


Comcast conducts research studies several times a year to assess the HD transition. Its findings indicate that prospective customers rate a recommendation from a friend as most critical in selecting HD service. To that end, Comcast plans to launch a refer-a-friend promotion within the next month, offering discounts for the person who signs up as well as for the person who suggested the friend sign up, said Kevin Hill, Comcast VP of national video marketing.

“The most passionate customers are the ones who have HD from us,” he said. So in a viral marketing campaign, Comcast will effectively recruit its current HD customers by traditional means-direct mail, bill messages and cross-channel-and urge them to e-mail a friend to try to persuade them to get HD. “We are playing into what we learned with the research, that friends are the most important [element in the buying decision],” he said.

Mr. Hill said that more than before, customers who buy new sets are also signing up for service at the point of purchase, indicating the gap may be closing.


Still, spreading the word on the need to sign up for service remains important. Cox is formulating its fourth-quarter marketing plans, which will be based on research the company conducts to understand why people who have HD sets have yet to hook up service. “Maybe some of our messaging as we go forward will get a little more granular and say, ‘If you have an HD set and you aren’t signed up, sign up with Cox,'” said Nancy Heffernan, director of video product management at Cox.

A key strategy in marketing HD is aligning with programmers. Cox and ESPN HD partnered on two promotions last fall in which Cox customers received a gift for signing up for service.


ESPN HD is running a promotion through the end of July in which customers who sign up for HD service from Time Warner will be entered to win a VIP trip to ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” on the road and will receive a $50 gift certificate from ESPNshop.com. Customers don’t have to buy an HD set, but they will need a set to view programming in HD. ESPN is promoting the offer on ESPN Radio, ESPN online and in e-mail blasts, said David Preschlack, senior VP of national accounts for Disney and ESPN media networks group. The network also has on the docket this fall a promotion with Comcast in the Northeast tied into the New England Patriots markets and “Sunday Night Football.”

ESPN communicates in its marketing materials that customers need to sign up for service. “We say the place to get ESPN HD is with Time Warner or Comcast, call Comcast or Time Warner [or whomever the promotion is with],” he said.

Discovery HD Theater

ESPN makes liberal use of its vast network of properties to promote HD, and other networks do too. While the more than 6,000 retail locations Discovery HD Theater is shown in are critical to marketing, so are Discovery’s shared assets, said Clint Stinchcomb, senior VP and general manager for Discovery HD Theater and VOD. For instance, Discovery as a company has committed to air at least one simulcast per quarter on the Discovery Channel mothership and the HD network. The July 31 premiere of “Comet Collision” will be simulcast on Discovery HD Theater and Discovery Channel. “We really try to leverage the full extent of Discovery’s assets,” he said.

Universal HD

Universal HD looks in-house too. Since the network draws its content from NBC Universal properties, networks such as USA and Sci Fi have promoted Universal HD fare on their air, said JB Perrette, senior VP of new media and chief financial officer of NBC Universal Cable.

Fox Sports Net

The Fox Sports Net regional networks follow a similar tactic by ensuring that announcers mention during a game if the broadcast is available in HD, said Matthew Keller, director of affiliate marketing for Fox Cable Networks. That lets standard-definition customers know about the HD option. Also, when HD product becomes available in markets, FSN works to incorporate HD messaging into the materials provided to affiliates so their subscribers know the product is now available in HD.

On Other Networks

Some networks don’t have HD counterparts but do offer HD programming on other networks. E! provides red carpet coverage of awards shows on iN Demand’s HD channel INHD. In those cases, E! and iN Demand create cross-channel spots for iN Demand and its affiliates to promote the coverage, but E! uses its airtime to push tune-in on E!, said John Najarian, senior VP of new media at E!

Mark Cuban, the co-founder and chairman of HDNet, said the network focuses on marketing through three means: retail, partnerships with HD-capable device makers such as PCs and by investing in quality content. But the biggest challenge is carriage itself. “A lot of distributors are bandwidth-constrained. Without bandwidth, it’s hard to find a slot,” he said. “HDNet has a huge marketing and distribution advantage because we originate more programming shot in true HD than any other network.”

No Blurry Zones

No matter where they market, HD networks share one thing in common: the need to find a clever and catchy way to promote a product whose value proposition is its visual splendor in such non-HD venues as print and standard-definition TV. FSN does that by creating marketing pieces that zero in on certain key elements, like a crystal-clear basketball player or baseball player blasting through a blurry world.