NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Comcast saw what happened when Hulu aired its big TV ad blitz, tied to the Super Bowl, and now it wants its own Hulu moment.
But it also believes it can do one better, appealing to a broader swath of potential online viewers than the offbeat, tongue-in-cheek Hulu ad did.
The company's TV portal, Fancast, is launching a 13-week media blitz called "See It For Yourself," including prime-time TV ads during the week CBS rolls out its fall schedule, starting tomorrow night during the premiere of "NCIS."
The campaign is a full-frontal assault on Hulu, but targeted at a different viewer: harried moms who are aren't watching TV online in big numbers and might have been turned off by Hulu's campaign earlier this year, which had an insider-ish tone and "Dollhouse" star Eliza Dushku as a sexy alien.
Tied to CBS programming
Like Hulu's ads, which included both Ms. Dushku and "30 Rock" star Alec Baldwin, Fancast's ads will be tied closely to prime-time programming, in this case recaps of CBS shows "CSI: Miami," "NCIS" and "How I Met Your Mother." The campaign also includes an online buy, with banner ads that will have one-click links to Fancast programming, and an outdoor campaign in San Francisco with interactive bus shelters that allow passers-by to pick and watch TV clips.
Fancast is cranking up the campaign in order to make itself a more credible competitor to Hulu, which has established itself as the leading TV portal at a time when a lot more television is coming online. To do so, Fancast is stealing a page from Hulu's playbook. Hulu, owned by NBC Universal, News Corp., Disney and Providence Equity Partners, launched its own TV campaign during the Super Bowl in February, and saw a 33% jump in users during that month.
That campaign, which called Hulu an "evil plot to take over the world," had a "Men in Black" motif and in addition to Ms. Dushku and Mr. Baldwin featured "Rescue Me" star Dennis Leary and "Family Guy" creator Seth McFarlane as aliens plotting to turn viewers' brain into a "cottage cheese-like mush" by a constant stream of programming. Crispin Porter & Bogusky created the ads.
But Fancast and its agency, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, believe the spots were most effective in reaching young men and heavy YouTube users, many of whom had already abandoned scripted prime-time TV. The agency conduced research that found that while lots of TV-watching women have sampled shows on the web, many are still unaware that they can keep up with their favorite TV day in and day online.
"You have a lot of samplers in the 'wired mom' and 'connected mom' categories, but nobody had reached out to them to say, 'Look guys, this is a consistent experience,'" said Karin Gilford, senior VP of Comcast Interactive Media. "They don't know who Seth McFarlane is in the ad; we probably wouldn't use aliens to market to them; and the lady from 'Dollhouse' could be intimidating to them."
The campaign features someone gushing about a TV show to someone else who hadn't seen it -- a common experience for moms for whom watching online "can be a time-management tool," Ms. Gilford said.
Hulu has a $50 million marketing commitment from its equity owners; Fancast has the backing of Comcast, the nation's largest cable operator. In addition to CBS, the TV ads will appear on national cable, incuding Comcast-owned networks such as E! and Style, but also others, such as Bravo, SoapNet, Lifetime and MTV.
Fancast is a key component of Comcast's digital strategy, and is the platform for its "TV Everywhere" initiative, On Demand Online, a pilot that will put ad-supported cable shows online for those who can prove they subscribe to pay TV. In addition to CBS, Fancast distributes Hulu, which means Hulu will also benefit from any marketing it does this fall.
CBS's TV portal, TV.com, has received some promotion on CBS, but otherwise this will be the second major national campaign for a TV portal. Hulu got a huge lift from its Super Bowl spot and Ms. Gilford hopes Fancast's campaign will have a similar effect. She said October and November "should be big months for us."
Sites such as Hulu and YouTube measure themselves on video views, and in Hulu's case the numbers as reported by Nielsen and ComScore include views on partner distributors, such as Fancast. Because Hulu gets credit for views of its shows on Fancast (as does CBS), Fancast pays more attention to unique visits as a metric, and on those terms the site has grown, up to 5.5 million unique visitors in August from 1.6 million a year ago, according to ComScore.
That's fewer than Hulu, which had 14.9 million (up 487%), and Yahoo TV, which had 12.2 million, but higher than CBS.com (4.7 million), NBC.com (4.5 million) and ABC.com (4.5 million).