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HBO Shows Its Streaming Strategy with Cringe-Inducing Campaign

Molly Fessenden / April 24, 2014

HBO Go_Awkward FamilyEntertainment has come a long way from the days of families gathering around the TV to watch Leave It To Beaver and the annual airing of The Wizard of Oz. In the sixty years since television first became a mainstay of daily American life, we have migrated further and further away from the communal viewing experience.  

While many lament this as a sign of disintegrating family values, HBO’s newest campaign highlights why solo viewing might actually be a blessing that preserves the family unit.

Awkward Family Viewing is nothing short of cringe-worthy. The campaign’s seven videos focus is on those terrible silences – or worse, conversations – that come when parents and teens watch a graphic sex scene or vulgar and curse-riddled argument together.

From a True Detective scene that prompts a father to tell his son about the opportunities he had to cheat on his wife (which he proudly turned down) to an episode of Girls that triggers a mother’s decidedly one-sided discussion about sexual orientation, you can’t help but wince with sympathy-shame.

Slightly over-the-top? Sure. The parents in this campaign are undoubtedly caricatures, but that doesn’t make the premise of the campaign any less honest or relatable.

While there are still some shows that can bridge the generational gap and appeal to both parents and kids, those tame plot lines aren’t in HBO’s wheelhouse. HBO pushes the envelope, which is what makes its content some of the best around. And much of the network’s appeal comes from the risks it is willing to take on new projects.

But, for those reasons, HBO is also one of the worst possible channels to watch in the family room. So Awkward Family Viewing’s tagline – “Might be a good time for HBO Go” – is beyond pitch-perfect. Equally well said is the campaign’s voiceover, which tells the viewers what makes HBO Go unique: that viewers can watch their favorite HBO shows far away from their parents.

Not only does the content directly target Millennial audiences, but so too does the campaign’s digital placement. Rather than running on TV, it will run exclusively on HBO’s YouTube page, Twitter feed, and Buzzfeed. Running the ads online means that they’ll primarily be consumed on laptops and mobile devices – the same ones through which younger viewers would also access HBO Go. In this sense, Awkward Family Viewing is a highly targeted campaign.

Why is HBO Promoting HBO Go?

Beyond being entertaining, this campaign for HBO Go raises an interesting question about the network’s strategy for its digital streaming service.

HBO Go is not a stand-alone product. It can only be accessed as part of a traditional HBO cable subscription. And it has so many users that the service crashed twice over the course of a single month (during the March 9 True Detective finale and the April 6 Game of Thrones premier). So why promote a product that HBO customers already have access to through a campaign geared primarily toward a demographic that isn’t in a position to make cable subscription decisions?

There’s no obvious answer to this question, but perhaps the campaign’s message is an indication that HBO has set its sights on eventually separating its online services from its cable subscriptions. This would be a logical step as the fight for viewers eyes on TV and online, where providers are becoming content creators in their own right, becomes increasingly fierce.

Awkward Family Viewing’s release coincides almost exactly with HBO’s April 23 announcement that it will make older content available to stream for Amazon Prime customers, which won’t require an HBO subscription. Content will also be available on Amazon Fire TV, a product similar to Apple TV, by the end of the year.

The HBO-Amazon deal could also be seen as play against Netflix, an Amazon Instant Video competitor that vocally opposed the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger (HBO is an operating subsidiary of Time Warner). According to Forbes, Netflix stock took an immediate hit on the day of the announcement and opened at almost $10 less than its Tuesday closing price. As of Wednesday afternoon, the stock was trading at a 4.3% decline.

For that matter, HBO Go’s newest campaign could also be seen as a play against Netflix. While Netflix’s marketing materials often depict happy families gathered around the computer or television watching movies together, HBO Go shows just how uncomfortable all that family togetherness can be sometimes. In that way, Awkward Family Viewing shows which streaming service, and which content, really understands and speaks to the Millennial audience.

Whatever the marketing strategy behind the campaign, it’s clear that Awkward Family Viewing has widespread appeal. In the two days since its launch, the campaign has already been viewed almost 2.7 million times, proving that whether it’s on TV or via another medium, HBO knows how to bring in an audience.

Tags: Amazon Prime, awkward family, Game of Thrones, Girls, HBO Go, Netflix, Visible Measures,


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  • About the Author

    Molly Fessenden

    Molly is a Senior Analyst and frequent contributor to the Visible Measures blog. Prior to joining the Analytics department in 2012, she received her B.A. from Johns Hopkins University.

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