LIVE ISSUE/SKY DIGITAL: Sky plans to take no prisoners in digital shootout - M&C Saatchi’s advertising for Sky digital TV is just a start Report by John Tylee.

Gunfight at the OK Corral would be an apposite first offering on Sky Cinema, the channel devoted to Hollywood classics and a major weapon in the battle for the yet to be realised digital TV audience.

Gunfight at the OK Corral would be an apposite first offering on

Sky Cinema, the channel devoted to Hollywood classics and a major weapon

in the battle for the yet to be realised digital TV audience.



As to which of the rival gunslingers will make the biggest killing, it’s

a fistful of dollars to a bent nickel that it will be Sky which, this

Thursday, goes in with six-shooters blazing, blasting the national

airwaves with a 90-second blockbuster commercial launching its 140

digital channels.



Just as in a Wild West cattle town, the protagonists - Sky and ONdigital

- are of the clear belief that the digital TV world ain’t big enough for

both of them.



Initial indications suggest this will be an all-out range war. The

reported pounds 60 million ad budget allocated to promote Sky digital in

the UK over the next year is proof enough of Rupert Murdoch’s

determination to corner the market.



Certainly, Mark Booth, Sky’s chief executive, who spent part of last

weekend closeted with the M&C Saatchi team fine-tuning the advertising

onslaught, is in high combat mode. ’Any opposition will be obliterated

by the strength of our offering,’ he boasted last month.



Curiously, such fighting talk is in sharp contrast to the agency’s

launch campaign for digital, which is at pains to neutralise the public

perception of Sky as an aggressive US invader holding people to ransom

by ’hijacking’ the programmes they used to be able to watch for the cost

of a licence fee.



It’s for this reason that Sky has reined in its natural desire to drive

digital dish sales, opting instead for launch advertising that does no

more than present digital as the key to unlocking viewing opportunities

previously undreamed of. Indeed, Sky’s initial targets are modest: just

200,000 digital subscribers by Christmas.



The hard sell will come later, of course, because subscriber numbers

will stimulate ad sales. For the moment though, the advertising will be

similar in tone to the M&C Saatchi work which has been preparing the

ground for digital since being named as Sky’s lead agency ten months

ago.



Winning over the sceptics who, according to one insider, think of Sky as

’all Premier League football and kung-fu movies’ has been at the heart

of a strategy personified by the ’We love, you love’ TV advertising. Now

comes the difficult part, namely extending Sky’s hitherto downmarket

appeal into Middle England and, in particular, to women for whom it

remains a big turn-off.



The big battleground is the 14 million homes currently not taking pay

TV. But if they haven’t got it already, what chance is there of digital

seducing them?



A smaller and more aesthetically pleasing dish will help overcome

snobbish prejudices as much as the advertising, although Sky agrees that

consumers’ natural instinct to wait for the dust to settle precludes

mass overnight conversion.



Nevertheless, Moray MacLennan, M&C Saatchi’s joint chief executive,

believes the middle-class bastion will fall, if only because of the

growing realisation that, eventually, all TV will be digital.



Long before that day, however, digital should be well established.

’Because pay TV has been driven successfully by soccer, big chunks of

what it offers - particularly movies - haven’t been properly exploited,’

MacLennan claims.



’Also, the technological leap is so big that that it’s bound to draw in

many more people.’



Still, it was never going to be easy to put across what has been hyped

as the biggest thing in TV since ... er ... TV. As MacLennan explains:

’There’s no single product benefit. This is a multi-faceted offering

with different appeals to different people.’



Digital is a difficult concept for consumers to swallow whole and the

agency has had to serve up the message in bite-sized chunks.



Four agency teams were given the launch brief and the idea eventually

chosen, from the art director, Malcolm Poynton, and the joint creative

director, James Lowther, was of ’frustrated’ TV sets driven to

distraction by being denied the chance to realise their full

potential.



The campaign kicked off with an unbranded magazine and poster drive

featuring TV sets delivering their plaintiff messages to darkened living

rooms.



It was supported last weekend by a series of five-second teaser

commercials - kept short to prevent boredom setting in. The frustration

theme spirals out of control in the denouement when the TV sets turn

completely loopy, blowing themselves up and threatening to hurl

themselves off Beachy Head until Sky digital comes to their rescue.



That, though, is only the start. The advertising has yet to overcome the

problems posed by the staggering and intimidating plethora of channels.

Answer: a computerised gizmo that will seek out the programmes punters

want to see. ’In essence, it’s the viewers’ choice, not ours,’ Jon

Florsheim, Sky’s director of marketing and distribution, says.



And what about people’s fears that galloping technology will quickly

render their digital equipment obsolete? No guarantees here but the

advertising will promise that Sky’s hardware will be OK ’for the

foreseeable future’.



Will all this be enough for Sky to win the whole shooting match?

MacLennan is in no doubt. ’People will want to see which company has the

better products and prices and I’m convinced that will be Sky,’ he says.

’I certainly would not want to be up against it.’



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