Discovery HD Theater, seizing on word-of-mouth and blog buzz around "Sunrise Earth" -- an hour of panoramic sunrises shot in HD glory at exotic locations around the globe -- is looking for ways to offer marketing tie-ins to the show. Though the program is 4 years old, it's now turning up everywhere from yoga classes to real-estate open houses as a plethora of HDTV owners turn into sun worshippers.
'Soothes the soul'
Consider that blogger Andrew Sullivan called out "Sunrise Earth" as his favorite HD program last month, writing on his blog, the Daily Dish: "This devastatingly simple project soothes the soul." Or Discovery HD's recent deal to make global sunrise videos clickable icons on Google Earth maps.
Aiming to further leverage consumer and marketer interest in the show, which airs weekdays at 7 a.m. and sometimes again at 10 a.m. or 7 p.m. without advertising, Discovery HD Theater is using "Sunrise" in a spring marketing push. The goal in April will be to draw attention to its other HD programming while attracting advertisers to Club 1080, named for 1080i HD resolution. HD viewers who join the club can sign up for news and insider looks at other Discovery HD programs, as well as win chances to go on location with the crews of Discovery HD shows.
Sponsorship opportunities for Club 1080 are still in the works, said Derek Koenig, senior VP-marketing, Discovery Communications, but a test campaign with BMW last month -- 30- and 60-second behind-the-wheel test drives around a racetrack at sunrise -- scored high marks from viewers. Mr. Koenig said that type of custom advertising is "just the tip of the iceberg" of what can and will be done in high definition, and long formats are also possible.
Interactivity is the hook
The appeal to advertisers and viewers is interactivity, he said. "Sunrise Earth" is the first to use the marketing idea of "watch it, explore it and then go do it," Mr. Koenig said. The show recently asked viewers to go online to nominate candidates for the next "Sunrise" location and win a chance to go along on the shoot. In just two weeks, it drew more than 1,000 entries, said Clint Stinchcomb, exec VP-general manager for HDTV and new media at Discovery.
Along with advertising revenue, HD networks, particularly those with commercial-free programming, make money through licensing fees and subscriptions, much like premium movie channels, with industry insiders pegging the profit between $1 and $2 a subscription. While that profit potential could spur more original HD content and even new HD-programmed networks, a stampede is likely a ways off. "It's still way too early and way too costly," said analyst Philip Swann of TVPredictions.com, who hailed "Sunrise Earth" as "brilliant" several years ago.
More likely are more network simulcasts in HD. Already TBS, CNN, SciFi Channel, USA Network and Cartoon Network have announced plans to add HD simulcast channels this year.
Another ongoing problem is that even as HD ownership grows, a significant gap remains between the number of HDTV owners and those watching HD programming. More than 26 million U.S. households owned HDTVs by the end of 2006, according to In-Stat. But only 10 million had signed up for and watched HD programming, said In-Stat analyst Mike Paxton. Still, that was up from 6.85 million in 2005.
One potential driver for HD programming is DirecTV's recent promise to add 100 HD channels this year. There are about 40 HD channels today, with most cable or satellite operators offering between 15 and 30. Many in the industry think DirecTV's move will put pressure on cable operators to add more channels to compete.
The Sunset Channel, anyone?