Cinemax throws out themed pix nights

NEW YORK — HBO’s sister channel Cinemax is tossing out its complicated theme-night movie scheduling Sept. 1 in favor of slotting different movies every night at 8 and 10.

“Simplicity is the key,” said Dave Baldwin, senior VP of program planning for HBO and Cinemax, speaking at a press briefing here Monday to discuss the Cinemax changes, including a new logo and new marketing campaign.

The current scheduling strategy “has too many moving parts,” Baldwin said, causing confusion among Cinemax subscribers. The network was asking viewers to remember that in July, e.g., Monday was comedy night, Tuesday suspense, Wednesday horror, etc.

Citing the “huge explosion of channels” available to cable subscribers and satellite-dish owners, Jeff Bewkes, chairman and CEO of HBO, said Cinemax hopes “to break through the clutter” by creating a fixed, predictable lineup of movies.

Rick Kendall, VP of marketing for Cinemax and HBO’s multichannel services, said Cinemax is operating from a position of strength, having engineered “double-digit subscriber growth for the third year in a row.” The network reaches about 9 million subscribers.

Bewkes said that “in every daypart, Cinemax beats Showtime in the ratings,” despite the fact that Showtime runs far more high-visibility theatrical movies in their pay TV premieres than Cinemax, which defers to HBO in scheduling A pictures for the first time on pay TV. Cinemax will end up playing these A pictures, but months after HBO finishes its burst of runs. “We’re not HBO’s ugly duckling any more,” he said.

The volume of movies in Cinemax’s inventory — Bewkes said it slots 65% more movies than any other pay TV service in a given year —means that, according to Baldwin, “we’re guaranteeing that there’ll be a different movie at 8 p.m. every night of the year.”

The marketing campaign, said Chris Spencer, VP of creative services and on-air production, will focus on “movie fans, who’ll become the new face and the new voice of Cinemax.” The network will tape man-in-the-street footage, using off-the-cuff remarks by fans to describe the skedded movies, instead of relying on canned, coming-attraction-type previews.

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