It’s not TV. It’s digital.
From launching the latest online TV service HBO Go to maximizing social networking sites, HBO pushes the digital space in ways that enhance the marketing of its original programming and provide value to subscribers both in the United States and internationally.
“Historically, we’ve always been on the forefront in the use of technology,” says HBO co-president Eric Kessler, the executive who chose the slogan “It’s not TV. It’s HBO” and turned it into a corporate mantra. “The greater the access viewers have to the content, the more they will use it and the longer they will hold on to the service.”
Kessler has spent more than two decades with the company and points to 1991 when HBO became the first premium cable channel offering multiplexing. By capitalizing on the expanding bandwidth, HBO begat HBO2, HBO3, as well as HBO Signature, Family, Latino, Comedy and multiple Cinemax channels.
HBO started HBO.com in 1995 and now sees the future with HBO Go, an online viewing service streaming more than 600 titles straight to your computer. From the start, HBO, like other cable programmers, offered multiple times to watch their programs past the original air date. In 2001, HBO entered the On Demand market, becoming the first premium channel to offer video on demand in the United States.
“They go against the grain. They do things a little different from anyone else, and they do it right,” says Deana Myers, SNL Kagan senior analyst. “HBO has taken advantage of different media, and they are everywhere with their marketing. Whether you are older, younger, tech savvy or not, HBO lets everyone know they are out there, and they really do have a reputation for high-quality original programming.”
But just having the goods isn’t enough to guarantee success. For shows such as “True Blood,” working with fan sites, as well as Facebook and Twitter, are imperative.
“Everyone uses social networking, but HBO isn’t just using it to promote their shows. They use (digital platforms) as a way of reinventing themselves and targeting new demographics,” Meyers says. “They embrace new technology, like multiplexing, on demand and now online delivery. It’s all added value for subscribers who don’t want to get rid of the service because they are getting more content and ways to watch.”
When launching “True Blood,” HBO took full advantage of the most popular social networking sites. Tickets were given to screenings at local theaters through Facebook. Once ticket holders were in the theater, HBO used live Twitter feeds so that people in the audience could tweet their reactions to what they saw on the big screen — and see their Tweets on the screen.
“Social networking is essential to the marketing plans,” Kessler says. “These digital marketing campaigns have to reinforce that HBO is better. We want to get people to ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ and then let them say this doesn’t look like a series you would find on any other network, and it is worth paying for.”
According to SNL Kagan research as of June, HBO leads the premium channel pack with 28.5 million subscribers, followed by Showtime with 18.1 million and third-place finisher Starz with 17.3 million. But the premium cable networks, especially HBO, may have reached a saturation point domestically.
“HBO has significantly more subscribers and sounder economics, but 28 million seems to be the top point, and there hasn’t been significant growth so far,” Myers says. “International is a small portion right now, but it has great potential.”
Kessler says HBO is looking at international opportunities to spur growth. Currently, HBO is positioned in more than 60 countries.
“Most homes don’t even have digital boxes and they don’t have on demand. Broadband has a low level of penetration as well,” Kessler says, “but as these countries grow in the marketplace, HBO can ride the distribution curb of multichannel and new tech around the world.”
HBO even offers an online marketing template to launch the shows.
“We work with the creators on the campaigns, so we’re able to provide all marketing materials, but they are free to make modifications based on what they have to sell,” Kessler says. “They tweak it to make it work, but generally what we give them fits.”
Kessler believes HBO is in a better position today than during any other point in the company’s history for growth.
“Our program lineup is strong, our brand perception is at the highest level and new technology provides an opportunity to reach subscribers in new and different ways,” Kessler says. “Our goal is to deliver HBO Go on all platforms and devices so that you can watch on Android, iPad, iPhone or whatever comes out in the months and years ahead. We’ll deliver our content whenever or wherever our subscribers want to watch.”