HBO Paves $10M Road to ‘Rome’

Jul 18, 2005  •  Post A Comment

HBO is planning an unprecedented $10 million marketing push for the Aug. 28 debut of “Rome,” its first new drama series since “Deadwood” premiered last year.

Plans include making the first three “Rome” episodes available to non-HBO subscribers via a free preview weekend, a relatively rare move for HBO, which tends to do previews with one cable operator at a time rather than nationally. Plans also call for attaching theatrical-style promotional trailers to summer movies, and the network has made a deal for a five-night cross-promotion with History Channel.

“We’re doing a variety of tactics that we think are unique and unprecedented,” said Eric Kessler, HBO’s president of sales and marketing. “We’re not thinking of ‘Rome’ as having a premiere date, but to think of it having a premiere period over several weeks.”

The success of “Rome,” a 12-episode saga that cost an estimated $100 million, is crucial for the network. Long a channel boasting the best series-to-hit batting average in the industry, HBO’s recent efforts have been mixed, with “Deadwood” and “Entourage” considered successful and shows such as “K-Street” and “Carniv%E0;le” perceived as less so. None have come close to creating the excitement generated by “Sex and the City” or “The Sopranos.”

“Rome” is seen as the network’s best shot for adding another literate, must-see drama to its schedule and the breadth and cost of its marketing strategy is expansive, even by HBO’s own theatrical standards. The marketing plan will kick into gear Aug. 1 with an outdoor ad campaign in major cities, deploying the teaser tagline “Every city has its secrets,” as well as nationwide in-theater ads attached to titles such as “The Island,” “Wedding Crashers” and “Dukes of Hazzard.”

Ads will quickly follow in national magazines, including an eight-page “domination” of Entertainment Weekly, and four-page spreads in Vanity Fair, Time, GQ and other publications, Mr. Kessler said. One version of the print campaign will use the legend “More” as an anagram of “Rome,” with each ad promising “more” of various types of intrigue.

The challenge, Mr. Kessler said, is to sell the $100 million production as a completely unique take on the Roman Empire. “You’re trying to show it in a way that [doesn’t look like] a history lesson but a fictional story about two guys working for Caesar’s army and how history unfolds around them,” he said. “That it’s not just people walking around in nice clean togas.”

Beginning Aug. 22, HBO will launch a national cable ad campaign with spots on 10 basic networks, including TNT, ESPN, USA and Comedy Central.

The ads will lead up to a free preview weekend beginning Sept. 3, during which the first three “Rome” episodes will be available to non-HBO subscribers on VOD-another HBO first. The premiere episode will also be available as a DVD included with the purchase of select HBO video titles at Best Buy, thereby showing “Rome” to HBO home video consumers-about half of whom typically are nonsubscribers.

Starting Sept. 5, History Channel will launch five nights of historical documentaries on the Roman Empire, hosted by “Rome” actors Ray Stevenson, Kevin McKidd and Indira Varma. The History lineup will include a 10-minute “making of” special. Two years ago History Channel bought the rights to the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers.” But the cross-promotion is the first of its kind between HBO, which is owned by Time Warner, and History Channel, which is owned by owned by A&E Television Networks. HBO declined to elaborate on the financial details of the agreement with History Channel.

HBO declined to comment, but sources estimated the “Rome” marketing campaign will cost HBO $10 million. A source at HBO did confirm that this is the largest amount HBO has ever spent to launch a single series.

To sustain viewer interest in the series and in HBO’s on-demand service, the network will offer additional “Rome” content available only on video-on-demand throughout the first season: makings-of documentaries, audio commentaries and other content typically reserved for DVD extras.