Empire Building

Tuesday, February 5 2013
Empire Building

When the third series of Boardwalk Empire made its debut as a home entertainment title towards the end of January, it marked the latest step in tan ongoing strategy developed by its production and distribution from television giant HBO.

For like many of its predecessors over the past year or so, the Martin Scorsese -created drama, followed a path that went from Sky Atlantic then on to download and streaming options exclusively, ahead of a physical DVD panned for later in the second quarter.

And despite some perceptions about the impact of this route from retailers, the strategy doesn’t seem to be harming sales of DVDs and Blu-rays, nor the viewing figures either.

As far as HBO is concerned, the figures and research show that its plan is paying off.

What’s more, the Sky Atlantic, then blinkbox and the likes, before an eventual physical bow, path is working for HBO and is now becoming standard procedure.

“We’re so excited about what we’ve been able to do with blinkbox, we’ve got [our programmes] out in the digital space,” says HBO’s director of international digital distribution, Colin Smith.

“There’s an obvious hunger for these shows, they became bestsellers on blinkbox within a few months, they overtook a lot of their bestsellers in the charts.”

The move towards digital downloads and streaming was a logical step for HBO, says Smith. “It’s definitely the way we tend to do business strategically. We look at titles from a life cycle perspective. When we’re planning a new title or a returning title into the market, we look at where it sits on all platforms and channels.”

It’s all a question, he continues, of ensuring the consumer has choice. “If they’re watching it on Sky Atlantic, on catch-up, Blu-ray, or downloading and streaming legally, we’re happy. We can give them the opportunity and grow the franchise.”

And they all help each other, he says.

“The TV window pushes the DVD window, which pushes the digital window. That’s the main goal, we’re looking at each window to provide growth.”

HBO has already seen the benefit of its long-term Sky Atlantic deal across different platforms. Not everyone has Sky Atlantic (this writer, for example), but the awareness the broadcaster’s impressive marketing spend creates helps push other formats

“When the Sky deal was first done, our catalogue business, both digitally and on DVD, saw an uplift,” says Smith. “Awareness creates demand.”

As well as awareness, Sky Atlantic and blinkbox, as well as DVD and Blu-ray, all help give a programme a buzz. “Word of mouth leads to purchasing, which leads to further word of mouth,” says Smith.

The TV world is far more complicated too, with all manner of deals and windows in place, none of which follow a set pattern, such as the four-month theatrical to DVD standard. “There’s a hunger for quality content,” says Smith, which can apply to consumers irrespective of how they get it. Unlike film piracy, there’s a feeling, one might surmise, that TV piracy is more acceptable. The availability of HBO programming through blinkbox and other areas helps prevent the increasing threat of piracy in the TV sector.

“TV windows are complex,” explains Smith, “TV lends itself to piracy because it’s so complicated. Consumers like something and want to see it. It’s out there and they can get it – we want to make the choices ones of legitimate consumption.”

And increasingly wide availability of programming could be helping to overcome the spectre of piracy.

“While there are bound to be overlaps, there are different audiences out there,” concludes Smith. “There’s an argument to say the people who are downloading illegally aren’t interested in DVD, or waiting for the DVD window.

“If you can make the show legal in their world, either by streaming or downloads, where the window allows, then we can make these customers legitimate customers; it’s better for the whole industry.”

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