Cable programmers are opting to show rather than tell when it comes to marketing their high-definition channels.
That’s because industry experts believe hi-def television sells best by word of mouth: checking out the game on a neighbor’s new set for the first time, walking into a Circuit City and catching a glimpse of the cheetah crouching on Discovery HD Theater, or doing a double-take when James Bond orders his signature drink on a screen in a Planet Hollywood restaurant.
These are the moments that best sell hi-def, cable programmers contend, because seeing the programming is more effective than any description can be. That’s why many programmers, such as Voom Networks, National Geographic Channel HD and Discovery HD Theater, have sought ways to showcase their content in its natural HD state on HD screens in both consumer and affiliate outreach efforts.
Voom, for instance, in January kicked off its year-long Bliss Campaign, centered around the idea of savoring the HD bliss, said Greg Moyer, general manager of Voom HD Networks, which counts 15 hi-def channels. Voom delivered hi-def spots for its networks in places such as the Consumer Electronics Show, North Face stores and Premier Retail Networks, which provides programming in more than 6,000 retail shops. Most recently, Voom partnered with Planet Hollywood to promote Voom’s James Bond film festival on Film Fest HD on in-restaurant screens. The promotions ran every hour during the month of June.
“You want to deliver the HD message in HD,” Mr. Moyer said. “This isn’t something you can put a spot on television or even do a piece of print and have people really understand. Ultimately HD will be sold by word of mouth or direct observation.”
That’s because the clarity of the image in HD really must be taken in by the eye. “It’s really seeing is believing,” he said.
Voom also brings hi-def to its potential viewers by showcasing Monsters HD for horror film fans when they congregate at horror film festivals.
Discovery HD Theater has employed a similar tactic in its consumer outreach efforts.
Discovery HD Theater, which is fully distributed, has a two-plus-year partnership with Circuit City to show the channel in the retail stores. The network also showcases its programs during Animal Planet Expo, the annual summer-long Animal Planet affiliate marketing campaign that travels from city to city. The expo includes a Discovery HD Theater dome that features the network’s programming, said Clint Stinchcomb, senior VP of new media for Discovery. In addition, Discovery HD Theater gives away a hi-def set in each market. “We’re taking HD to the masses,” Mr. Stinchcomb said.
In June the network offered a Father’s Day promotion giving away an exotic trip to accompany the crew of its hi-def series “Sunrise Earth” on a shoot in South America. That sweepstakes was promoted on-air and with Circuit City.
National Geographic Channel HD launched earlier this year and is carried on EchoStar and a handful of smaller cable systems. That means the network needs to reach both consumers and affiliates with its message. At the National Cable Show in Atlanta in April, the network presented footage from its upcoming special “Galapagos” in hi-def in its booth. Also, when NGC HD meets with distributors, executives often bring specialized hi-def content on tapes so the operators can see the hi-def content they’re being pitched to carry.
“We showed that in the booth [at the National Show] and we show that when we pitch HD to prospective operators to give them a sense of the majesty and the richness of our content,” said Steve Schiffman, executive VP of marketing and digital media for National Geographic Channel.
In addition, the network produces promo spots to run on sister property Fox Sports Net during hi-def telecasts, giving viewers with HD sets a chance to see a sampler of NGC HD in hi-def, Mr. Schiffman said.
Even though the network is available in hi-def to only a small footprint for now, it has not held back on consumer marketing. In fact, National Geographic Channel regularly runs on-air “bugs” letting viewers know that the show is also available in hi-def and advising them to call their carrier to see whether it’s available. In addition, Sony and Texas Instruments sponsor on-air vignettes on the science behind hi-def that run on the standard-definition channel.
Additional marketing tactics include 30-second radio spots running across 250 radio stations, bag inserts in National Geographic stores and ads in TV Guide, on NYTimes.com and elsewhere. In addition, the network runs on Premier Retail Network, providing another chance to show hi-def content on hi-def sets.
Though the network runs the risk of frustrating consumers who can’t access the hi-def content, Mr. Schiffman believes this strategy can drive demand, especially given that consumers cited National Geographic Channel in the Beta Brand Identity Survey as the channel they most want to see in hi-def. “We want to make sure they know it’s available. Our job is to build demand and build awareness,” he said.
As a whole, consumer confusion still exists about hi-def programming. Some consumers buy hi-def sets and then don’t sign up for programming. EchoStar has focused its marketing on the notion that hi-def is part of a package and not a separate or add-on service, said Tammy Timmons, senior programming manager for EchoStar.
“It’s more of a positioning statement,” she said. “There is still a lot of confusion in the marketplace about HD. Customers often still assume they are getting HD even if they aren’t.”