HBO finds pushing U.S. fare in Asia can be tricky

Cabler tries to get Asian auds interested in original programming

SINGAPORE — HBO Asia is continuing to push its Originals product and build its brand across the region with a $2 million marketing campaign for “Band of Brothers.”

The channel, launched in 1992, is a joint venture of Time Warner, Paramount, Universal and Columbia TriStar. It sees its Originals as the next stage in its evolution toward maturity.

“HBO (Stateside) is already synonymous with quality, challenging programming,” says director of marketing Caroline Wong, “whereas here in Asia we’re still very led by blockbuster movies.”

The coming months will see a slew of pics, including “Gladiator,” from the five major studios.

Marketing HBO Originals like “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge” and “RKO 281” to an Asian aud is no easy task, however, especially given the region’s diversity. “Trailers, posters and creative have to be customized by market,” explains Wong. “In Malaysia, for example, adverts have to be produced using local talent. We also have to exercise cultural sensitivity — Halle Berry’s onscreen dress was deemed ‘too revealing.’ ”

Yet HBO Asia public relations manager Angie Tan points to the universality of the show. “It’s about camaraderie in the face of war. ‘Saving Private Ryan’ did very well here, and that’s just one story from the Stephen Ambrose book upon which ‘Band of Brothers’ is based.”

The $120 million “Band of Brothers” is HBO Asia’s biggest Original production. Boding well for its Oct. 27 preem in Asia are the presence of high-profile players Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg as executive producers and the early success of the miniseries in the U.S. “Audiences do look to the States for indicators,” says Wong. The show’s “ratings there will drive interest here.”

The channel is also using a number of tie-ins to drive awareness and subscriptions. “Stores are selling the book using HBO promotional materials, and we are joining with affiliates in various markets to drive subscription or package upgrade,” says Wong.

HBO Asia will use syndicated and self-commissioned ratings figures to measure the show’s success.

“We also have promotions like ‘Subscribe to HBO for three months get one free,’ ” adds Wong. “We want to ensure that HBO becomes the generic cable channel for movies and quality programming, and not being ad-supported, we can truly say we’re viewer-led rather than advertiser-led.”

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