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
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
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
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,’
’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
The campaign kicked off with an unbranded magazine and poster drive
featuring TV sets delivering their plaintiff messages to darkened living
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
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.’