Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Want to See Why You Can’t Get HBO or Showtime Without Paying for Cable? Watch This Ad.

“Hey, stupid TV companies!” the Internet says, over and over. “Stop making us sign up for pay TV to see your shows!”

“Not gonna happen,” comes the response from the TV guys, over and over. “Not anytime soon, at least.”

That’s particularly true for premium pay channels like HBO and Showtime, which make almost all their money from subscription sales, and rely heavily on pay-TV providers to handle their marketing, as well as all of their customer service, billing, etc.

Yes, there are a bunch of people who would pay to watch episodes of “Game of Thrones,” but don’t want to get HBO. And there also a bunch of people who say they would be happy to subscribe to HBO, but not pay for cable. But HBO and Showtime executives figure that the upside of pleasing those people doesn’t outweigh the downside of angering the cable, telco and satellite guys, who give them a ton of dough.

You can go around and around on this one, but it’s easier to show instead of tell. So take a look at this ad, which millions of you have already seen this fall:

To sum up: That’s a classic twofer, promoting both the hottest show on cable TV and the company that will bring it to you.

But I’m told that the financing for this one is pretty one-sided, with Time Warner Cable footing almost all of the bill. People familiar with the ad tell me that Showtime took care of the six-figure bill for Claire Danes’s participation, but everything else is on the cable guys, who will end up spending more than $20 million on the campaign.

Clearly, big TV campaigns promoting their network and their hit show aren’t the only thing keeping Showtime tethered to the pay-TV model. If CBS wanted to run its own marketing push for Homeland, it could do so.

But the ad does speak to the tight, profitable symbiosis between the network and the guys who run the pipes. The Internet isn’t going to break that up anytime soon.


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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus