Package deal can have make-or-break effect

You can judge a tape by its cover

Just how important is the look of the package that contains the VHS tape of a would-be Emmy nominee sent to voting members of the TV Academy? Quite a lot, believes Mark Zakarin, executive VP of original programming for Showtime Networks.

Zakarin and his fellow Showtime executives still smarting from what they considered a glaring snub last year: the lack of a single nomination for the network’s acclaimed Gulf War Syndrome report, “Thanks of a Grateful Nation.”

Showtime shipped it to Academy of Television Arts & Sciences members in essentially a plain envelope, eschewing a multicolored box, embossed quotes from critics and (as is sometimes the case) black velour.

Never again, Zakarin vows.

“You would like to think that these (nominating) decisions are based on content and not cosmetics,” Zakarin says. “Unfortunately, the reality of human nature is that you wind up paying attention to what initially catches your eye. So, sadly enough, this winds up being about packaging as well.”

Zakarin adds that Showtime is stepping up its investment in the trimmings that accompany the tape submissions this year. “At a certain point you just say to yourself, ‘We want the members of the TV Academy to pay attention to our great movies.’ If fancy acrylic boxes help do the trick, we, unfortunately, need to be in that business.”

HBO’s original programming prexy Chris Albrecht agrees with Zakarin … to a point.

“Yes, the packaging gets attention and helps tell somebody why they should watch your series or film,” Albrecht believes. “But it still isn’t nearly as effective a marketing tool as is the tremendous free publicity that the broadcast network candidates receive just by virtue of their being in 100 million homes of people who don’t have to pay a dime for them.”

Albrecht maintains that whatever HBO can achieve in terms of packaging merely helps straighten out the lopsided built-in promo-marketing advantage the broadcast webs enjoy.

“That’s one reason why I will be a little bit surprised if ‘The Sopranos’ gets the (drama series) nominations it deserves,” Albrecht says. “Even though it’s a great show with amazing word of mouth, and HBO subscribers came out to watch it in droves, it is still available to only a quarter of the entire TV audience. That’s a significant Emmy disadvantage to have to overcome.”

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