HBO has long made a business out of launching new, eyebrow-raising series like “Game of Thrones” or “The Sopranos” to drive people to join its subscriber base. Now it’s digging up the past in a bid to gain more of an audience for its future.
The Time Warner premium-cable service in September showcased a 40th anniversary airing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and in January a rare run of “The Godfather Epic,” a re-edited seven-hour-plus version of Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” and “The Godfather, Part II.” In February, HBO played up the 30th anniversary of the 1986 John Hughes teen-focused movie “Pretty In Pink.”
Like Showtime and Starz, its main rivals, HBO has long used older movies to fill the schedules of its suite of subscriber-based outlets. Now that the company is placing more focus on its HBO Now streaming service, however, it is getting more aggressive in the way it markets the movies to which it has library rights. Executives have scoured its vault to see what properties might be ripe for promotion.
“We are executing a strategy that continues to evolve as more platforms emerge, and there are different ways to across those platforms to highlight those titles, said Meredith Gertler, HBO’s senior vice president of program strategy and planning, in an interview.
Just yesterday, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes acknowledged that HBO would increase the number of hours of original programming by 50%. The company has signed 1 million users to the service, and would clearly like to win more. And while series like “Girls” and “Last Week Tonight” generally create much of the buzz around the network, there’s no reason an older cult favorite can’t pull some weight as well.
Staffers search for films that are likely to spark a furor among digital users, who might be tempted to use HBO Now to check out the movies, along with related content. “All of the content is at their fingertips, but it’s our job to find simple ways to get them to navigate and discover this content,” said Gertler.
To promote “Pretty In Pink,” HBO used interviews with director Howard Deutch and costume designer Marilyn Vance to lure fans of the project. To tout the 40th anniversary showing of “Rocky Horror” – the first time a high-def remastering of the film has been available HBO deployed videos of emojii meant to represent the action that takes place during some of the off-kilter film’s musical moments. The “Rocky Horror” showing on HBO’s linear channel was at midnight.
HBO is not going the way of TCM, Gertler said. Subscribers should not expect an HBO proxy for Robert Osborne to come to their screen and put an older film in context. But there is more opportunity to highlight an older movie, particularly when it appeals to digitally savvy consumers who might consider buying HBO Now to watch it, particularly if there’s something rare or unique to be seen. “The Godfather Epic,” for instance, contains scenes not included in the original films – like the murder of Fabrizio, the gun-for-hire who betrayed Michael Corleone and killed his first wife with a car bomb.
Of course, there’s plenty of drama in the pay-cable industry, and HBO rivals also use curation to draw interest to their offerings. CBS Corp.’s Showtime has curated collections of programming on its streaming subscription service. Starz intends to run a marathon of Marvel movies on April 29, 2016 – “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Ant-Man” as a build up to the premiere in theaters of “Captain America: Civil War” on May 6.
HBO is likely to continue to dust off classics – though its activity will largely depend on what movies are available at any given time. “ I think it would be a missed opportunity not to take advantage of those things,” Gertler said.