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Case Study: HBO Originals - marketing of a television property

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Case Study: HBO Originals - marketing of a television property

HBO has been actively promoting its property – HBO Originals, which is now in its 10th year in India. In conversation with e4m, Shruti Bajpai, Country Manager, HBO South Asia, traces the growth of HBO Originals in India, the major achievements, shows, viewership pattern as well as the English movies genre in the country today…

Launched in 2001 in India, HBO Originals is a 10-year old property in the country. How has the journey been?
It has been a great journey. Over the years, HBO originals have become immensely popular in India and a big factor in differentiating HBO as a strong international brand among the competitors. From the days when we launched the first HBO Original series – Band Of Brothers in India, to today, when True Blood and Sex And The City have become a way of life, it has been extremely overwhelming and fruitful 10 years.

Building up a property such as HBO Originals needs a lot of planning. How was the property built up, the early promotion activities, getting advertisers on board, creating visibility and buzz, getting in media partners…
HBO Original productions are what made the brand distinctive in US. When we launched in India we were faced with a challenge in establishing this property as the awareness was limited. So we had to think out of the box for innovative ways to create awareness and following for HBO originals.

First HBO Original to launch in India was a mega min-series event - Band Of Brothers, with names like Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg attached to it. So it wasn’t difficult to fetch advertiser and viewer interest for the series. Band Of Brothers that dramatized the events of World War 2, was based on a book of the same title, so in addition to mass-media campaign-outdoors and print, we tied up with major book stores in key cities to promote the series. We created Band Of Brothers corners co-promoting the series with the book giving out exclusive HBO goodies.

Among our earlier initiatives, we had a lot of innovative promotions for Sex And The City. Starting from Sex And The City theme nights in night clubs in Delhi which were covered by all major dailies, to magazine innovative with a Sex And The City quotes calendar that could be pulled out, to a Sex And The City dictionary and a Cannes nominated OOH campaign… just like the show, it’s promotions also became the talk of the town. Sex And The City till date remains the most popular series in india whether it’s the viewers, media partners or the press which massive response for all 6 seasons.

Which was the first series to premiere under HBO Originals in India? How was the buzz created around the series? What was the viewership like?
The first series to premiere under HBO Originals in India was Tom Hanks-Steven Spielberg production Band Of Brothers in 2001. As mentioned above, was hugely promoted on mass-media and through cross-promotions at book store. The series garnered very good response from advertisers and viewers. Keeping its popularity in mind, the series was brought back in 2009 where it had 2.24 million viewers (CS, 15+, All India, TAM data).

Which has been the most watched HBO series in India so far?
Undoubtedly Sex And The City! Not only on HBO, but Sex And The City was the highest rated English Serial in prime-time (Source: TAM 2003, CS 15-44 AB, 5 Metro Audiences) across English channels. The popularity of the series grew with each season and in 2004 with season 4, the tune-ins touch as high as 15.2 million viewers (Source: TAM 2004, CS 15+, All India).

What have been the major series launched under HBO Originals? Which have been the most well received series? Some viewership figures or trends…
The key series launched in India so far go as follows –

2001 -Band Of Brothers (Mini-series, drama): Executive produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, the 10 part mini-series was a dramatization of the World War 2, one of the most award winning and appreciated HBO productions. The series garnered very good response from advertisers and viewers. Keeping its popularity in mind, the series was brought back in 2009 where it had 2.24 million viewers

CS, 15+, All India, TAM data

2003 – Sex And The City (comedy, drama): Emmy and Golden Globe-winning Sex and the City, created by Darren Star and starring Sarah Jessica Parker, that follows the dating and mating habits of single New Yorkers. The ever popular Sex and the City ran for six years until 2004 and was later extended into 2 commercially successful feature films. Sex And The City was the highest rated English serial in prime time (Source: TAM 2003, CS 15-44 AB, 5 Metro Audiences) across channels. The popularity of the series grew with each season and in 2004 with season 4, the tune-ins touched as high as 15.2 million viewers (Source: TAM 2004, CS 15+, All India).

2006- Rome (History, Drama): HBO & BBC 100 Mn USD co-production Rome that chronicles the epic times that saw the fall of a Republic and the creation of an empire. The series was nominated for multiple Emmy and Golden Globes. At 0.36%, the highest rated ep of ROME was among the top 5 English drama series in 2006.

TAM, 15-44, CS, AB, 5 metros

2007 – Entourage (Comedy): Emmy, Golden Globe and Peabody-winning series about four longtime friends who share the highs and lows of life in the fast lane of Hollywood. Till date, Entourage 25 Emmy and 14 Golden Globe nomination, currently running into its 8th season and now being considered for a feature film. Extremely popular in India, Entourage was the highest rated English series of 2009 across channels with a rating of 0.30 for its highest rated episode.

TAM, 15-44, CS, AB, 5 metros

2009 – True Blood (Drama, horror): One of its kinds series that took the entire world by storm when launched in 2009. From the Academy award winning director Alan Ball, starring Academy award winner Anna Pacquin, True Blood has smashed all the records of popularity across the world, making it the most watched series since The Sopranos. Launched in India in 2009, the series has completed 3 very successful seasons already and is ready with a much anticipated season 4 this year. The premiere season of TRUE BLOOD was the highest rated English drama series in 2009.

TAM, 15-44, CS, AB, 5 metros

2010 – The Pacific (Mini-series Drama): In 2010, the HBO ten-part miniseries presentation of The Pacific, which tracks the intertwined odysseys of three U.S. Marines across the Pacific Theater during World War II., garnered eight Emmy® Awards. Executive produced by Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg and Gary Goetzman, the producing team behind the award-winning Band of Brothers, the epic miniseries stars John Seda, James Badge Dale and Joe Mazzello. The Pacific was received extremely well among both viewers and advertisers and had as many as 5 big sponsors on board.

Most popular television properties find their way as DVD packages, wherein the entire series available for sale – for example, ‘Lost’. Does HBO have plans to introduce the same in India for their original property in the future?
All the seasons of all HBO Original series, most movies and documentaries are available in a DVD version at select stores across India. They are also available online at the

How is HBO Originals taking forward the HBO brand in India?
HBO’s cutting edge original productions is really what differentiates us as a brand among our competitors. In this genre where you are as good as your last movie, HBO is the only channel with a proprietary product, well establish and immensely popular and that’s why we lay a lot of emphasis on them. After 10 very successful years, we continue to make them an integral part of our programming package. That would mean that at any given point, there will an HBO series or movie on air.

What has the viewership pattern been like for HBO Originals in India? Which markets have garnered more viewers? Any viewership trends of note?
The viewership pattern for HBO originals is very loyal with a high degree of time-spent among a select set of discerning viewers who like to watch critically acclaimed, award-winning off-beat shows. This also builds a stronger connect with the brand HBO in that small but very critical group of audience, which we now see growing steadily.

Having said that, there have been a few HBO shows that have also gained mass popularity and have featured among the top rating English shows. Sex And The City is one of the top rated shows across channels till date; True Blood, was the highest rated series when it premiered among all English channels; Entourage also featured repeatedly among the top rated series of the year across channels and Rome, was among the series of the year when it premiered in 2006.

Among the other lesser popular series that have seen good ratings on and off are Big Love with its premiere season being the highest rated drama series in 2008 and No.1 Ladies Detective Agency in 2010 that was the highest rated premiering comedy series in 2010.

TAM, 15-44, CS, AB, 5 metros

Compared to the US market, what are the major differences in the viewership pattern of the HBO Originals series?
In US, HBO Original series are the key differentiating factor that drives the brand and viewership. Whereas in India, movies are still the main driver of viewership. However, we have seen a steady increase in the viewership preference for HBO originals with the Indian viewer evolving to mature themes and genres of entertainment in the recent years. Now they talk about and demand for HBO Original series even before they are premiered in India.

The English movies genre has seen kind of a shake-up with the launch of Movies Now – which has followed the tried and tested way of airing popular Hollywood action flicks. How is HBO countering the growing competition in this genre?
Rating fluctuations are normal for any channel in this business. As the number of players grow, it is more important for the category to expand. As for HBO, there’s no reason to feel threatened because of the sheer differentiation in terms of our content. We are the only channel with the capability to bring both the most popular blockbusters like Ironman 2 and Inception, cutting edge titles like Blind Side, Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy and ground-breaking original content. In terms of both quality and quantity we are still unmatched.

How has the English Movies genre grown in the last five years? What have been the 3 key noteworthy developments?
English movies is a small but relatively loyal fraction of the huge viewership pie and the genre has been more or less stable in the last 5 years with steady viewership numbers and revenue growth. There have been some significant developments in the genre over these years, most noteworthy of them being –
1. While action movies are still popular, the audiences have evolved to a wider choice of content genres leading to higher preference and loyalty for HBO originals and critically acclaimed drama titles like Invictus, The Blind Side and King’s Speech.

2. The viewers today have also become savvy and more involved with the brand. So the television viewing is not passive anymore, but they actively engage themselves with the brand providing suggestions, feedback and reviews on Facebook and various other social media communities.

3. At the same time, like any other category, even this category has seen increased competition with the viewer ultimately benefitting with a much wider choice.

Marketing a television property like HBO Originals has its own intricacies. What kind of marketing and promotional activities have been undertaken for HBO Originals?
As we listed out previously, HBO has always looked at unconventional marketing routes when comes to its original productions. The themes being edgy and off-beat make it both integral and possible to innovate while promoting these properties.

Among various initiatives were the book-store branding for Band Of Brothers, Sex And The City parties, OOH innovations and among the more recent ones was the social media innovation for the launch of True Blood. The series is about vampires walking openly among humans, so we created a vampire’s profile on Facebook adding online human friends. This small innovation created huge buzz among both the audience and media.

Who are the various agencies on board to handle the various requirements such as – Creative duties, media duties, digital duties, out-of-home, events, etc.?
Mudra group handles both our creative and media duties. The social media initiatives are handled by OMLogic, a Delhi based agency and digital duties are aligned with Magnon Solutions. We have both Mudra Primesite and Bright Outdoors on board for our OOH campaigns.

Who have been the major advertisers on board for the various properties of HBO Originals?
All HBO Original series have received great interests from advertisers. Among the recent ones, True Blood had sponsors like Toyota, Lays, Samsung, Bajaj Pulsar, Fuel deodorants on board: The Pacific had Sony Ericsson, KFC, Sunfeast, Tata Tea, Su-Kam invertors and soon to be launched Game Of Thrones has an exclusive tie-up with Tata Manza which is also one of the biggest advertisers on HBO.


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