By Allison J. Waldman
Special to TelevisionWeek
The media buzz and overall anticipation for the return of “The Sopranos” on HBO was palpable as the show’s sixth season approached after more than a year and a half with no new episodes. Magazine covers, entertainment news reports, and lots and lots of advertising heralded its return.
For the marketing team at HBO, the question was how to bring in new viewers, not only for the new season but to the on-demand service as well. At the CTAM Summit, HBO On Demand will be recognized for a multipronged campaign that successfully answered that question and drove viewers to the cable network.
The first thing HBO marketing did was to create The Sopranos Countdown, a coordinated stunt to convey to consumers the imminent premiere of the show’s new season. “One of the things we wanted to do with `The Sopranos’ was to distinguish this countdown leading into the new season from the `Sopranos’ episodes that are always on the service in some capacity,” said Rishi Malhotra, director of HBO On Demand. “We distinguished the campaign from that by calling it The Countdown, and we used that nomenclature everywhere, from marketing to affiliates to the user interface. That was our big-picture positioning.”
Once The Countdown whetted the appetite, HBO’s “Mob Minutes,” designed to hook new viewers, entered the picture. “If you missed any of the prior seasons, that was a lot of programming to commit to, so we introduced what we call `Mob Minutes,’ which were essentially season recaps in three minutes.” HBO On Demand was then available to give viewers the chance to catch up on seasons one through five. “People have the opportunity with On Demand to essentially revisit every single season of `The Sopranos.’ I think that was a really key component to this,” Mr. Malhotra said.
“The name `Mob Minutes’ was a great hook title. When you’re marketing on-demand content it’s more than just the description, but the actual title has to be enticing enough for someone to click through and want to be inspired to watch that.”
The HBO marketing campaign went beyond “Mob Minutes” and the offering of episodes from previous seasons. “The other prong to the strategy was to offer specialized features that `Sopranos’ fans would like to see,” Mr. Malhotra said. “One of those key features was covering Annie Leibovitz’s photo shoot, which we called `Shooting the Shoot.’ There was also an invitation to season six, so people could get the first real look at the new season well ahead of its premiere date.”
The campaign sparked interest for the entire on-demand platform, not just “The Sopranos.” “On Demand has been incredible so far. `The Sopranos,’ as you can imagine, the countdown to each season has done incredibly well. We’re very happy with it and we think it helped establish momentum into 2006,” Mr. Malhotra said. “I think people learn two things. One is awareness of actually having the service, and two is the actual benefits and the offerings that the service brings into the home. Once people are more comfortable with that and use it a few times, it becomes a behavior that sticks.”
As HBO noted in its CTAM submission, The Sopranos Countdown was extremely popular and a definite success. Said Mr. Malhotra, “For HBO On Demand, each season of `The Sopranos’ and The Sopranos Countdown delivered some of our highest usage to date, in comparison to other seasons of other franchises. The enhanced content, like the `Mob Minutes,’ `Shooting the Shoot’ with Annie Leibovitz and Invitation to Season Six, were our highest-used pieces.”