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HBO (The Home Box Office)

Role in Production, Distribution, and Transmission

Branding and Advertising Strategies

HBO relies on it's programming as well as the cast members involved to make up its most powerful branding techniques. As a result, HBO know it should commit the bulk of its branding dollars to programming, and it does just that. As Eric Kessler, HBO's VP of marketing explains it, "At the end of the day, the brand is all about the programming. The campaign `It's Not TV. It's HBO' works because the programming is so incredible," says Kessler. "What people remember about HBO isn't a slogan. It's `The Sopranos.' It's `Sex and the City.' It's `Six Feet Under.'"[1] In fact they rely on the idea that the programming should speak for itself so much, that an ad shot by Annie Leibovitz in 2002 to promote the new season, didn't even include the title of the show, and instead relied on the fact that The Sopranos was one of the most watched shows at the time.[2]

Another part of the self-created HBO brand is the idea that it's "Not TV. It's HBO". While no longer the current slogan, many of the advertisements HBO puts out and the programming decisions that it makes still center around this idea of HBO being something more than what is offered on other channels. One of the major ways that HBO differentiates itself from network television, is with it's cancellation policy. Network TV relies very heavily on ratings, and thus is forced to cancel a show if the ratings become too low. Often this spells disaster for new shows who have potential, but take too long to find their fan base. Because HBO operates on a subscription basis the ratings don't necessarily matter to them and therefore they have the freedom to pick-up and then keep many new shows even if the ratings aren't there. By showing their commitment to keeping their programming consistent and/or long term, they are setting themselves apart.[3]

As mentioned above, HBO viewers must also be subscribers, as HBO isn't part of a basic cable package. While relying on programming is a good technique for keeping their current subscribers and one that will help to attract some new ones, it's not enough to attract the number of new subscribers that they want and need. Therefore they turn to other classic techniques such as telemarketing and shipping out millions of promotional materials a year. According to the VP of marketing this strategy works as between 1997 and 2002 HBO gained 1 million subscribers a year. [4]

Some less traditional marketing techniques rely on creating buzz around the channel and it's television shows in order to generate fresh interest. HBO held the Band of Brothers series premiere on the beaches of Normandy, and turned The Sopranos premiere into a special event at Radio City Music Hall in order to elevate the hype that surrounded that beginning of these shows. By turning these premieres into special events, HBO is again highlighting that "It's Not TV. It's HBO".[5]Buzz has also been created in other ways. In order to promote the True Blood season 2 premiere, HBO joined forces with mainstream companies such as Marc Ecko, Harley Davidson, Geico, and Gillete in order to create advertisements that supported both the TV show as well as the company. HBO was satisfied because they got their program advertised to consumers whom might normally not be exposed to their other campaigns, while the companies were satisfied because they got to benefit from the success of the TV show.[6]Currently, a similar ad partnership is evolving between Boardwalk Empire  and Harrah's, Macys, and Canadian Club. [7]

One of the more well known HBO brand campaigns, the HBO Voyeur Project, was revealed to the public in June of 2007. The HBO Voyeur Project filmed a series of interconnected stories that took place across many urban apartments and featured them on, HBO Mobile, and HBO on Demand. The tag-line for the project was, "sometimes the best stories are the ones we were not meant to see" and was meant to play upon the notion that HBO is well known for its great storytelling. [8]

Target Audiences

Ownership and Conglomeration

In 1973, Time Inc. purchased “HBO” from Sterling Communications. With the merging of Time Inc. and Warner Communications Inc., HBO joined Time Warner in May 1989[9].  Currently, Time Warner owns HBO[10].

Within HBO Inc., HBO possesses the following auxiliary brands:

  • HBO
  • HBO On Demand
  • Cinemax
  • Cinemax On Demand
  • HBO Home Entertainment
  • HBO Domestic and International Program Distribution
  • HBO On Demand International: Israel, United Kingdom, Japan, Cyprus, Greece
  • HBO Mobile International: United Kingdom, South Africa, Canada
  • International Ventures: HBO Asia, HBO Central Europe, HBO Latin America
  • E! Latin America Channel

One of the largest media conglomerates, Time Warner notably owns the following companies and their respective brands: Turner Broadcasting, Warner Brothers Entertainment, and Time Inc.[11].

Signature Programming and Genre Trends[12]

Evidence of its original, critically acclaimed programming, HBO has annually received the greatest number of Emmy nominations of any network since 2001[13]. Accredited to its success, HBO, as a premium cable service, can broadcast programs containing graphic nudity, violence, profanity, and other adult content. Capturing numerous genres, HBO's programming fits into eight categories: drama series, comedy series, miniseries, original films, documentaries, sports, talk shows, and performances.

Drama Series

HBO's dramas concentrate on various genres, such as family life (Big Love, Six Feet Under), history (Deadwood, Rome), and crime (The SopranosOz, Boardwalk Empire,The Wire). Currently HBO features five drama programs: Boardwalk Empire, True Blood, Big Love, Treme, and In Treatment.

Comedy Series

HBO has produced breakthrough hits for young comedians (Flight of the Conchords, Da Ali G Show) as well as successful series with established comedians (The Larry Sanders Show, Curb Your Enthusiasm). HBO comedy series often deal with show business (Entourage, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Extras), the literary world (Sex and the City, Bored to Death), sports (Arliss, Eastbound and Down) and sketch comedy (Mr. Show with Bob and David, Tracey Takes On...). Currently HBO features six comedy programs: Entourage, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Bored to Death, Eastbound and Down, Hung, and How to Make It In America.


HBO's miniseries frequently deal with social issues, such as poverty (The Corner), AIDS (Angels in America), war (Generation Kill, The Pacific, Band of Brothers), and history (From the Earth to the Moon, John Adams).

Original Films

Confirmation of its successful innovation, HBO has won the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Made for Television Movie nine out of ten years[14]. Some notable films include Something the Lord Made, Truman, Miss Evers' Boys, The Girl in the Cafe, and Recount.


HBO's documentaries and documentary series focus on a gamut of issues including current events (When the Levees Broke, Baghdad High), sexuality (G String Divas, Real Sex), and music (The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town), among other topics.


HBO’s sports coverage has previously consisted of reality series (Hard Knocks), journalism (Costas Now, Inside the NFL, Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel), and boxing matches.

Talk Shows

Occasionally, HBO has featured several comedic talk shows including The Chris Rock Show, Dennis Miller Live, and the still-running Real Time with Bill Maher.


As well as featuring regular performance programs such as Def Poetry and Def Comedy Jam, HBO often showcases musical and comedy specials such as The 25th Anniversary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Concert and You're Welcome America: A Final Night with George W. Bush.


HBO primarily divides its schedule between original programming and movies. HBO's premier original line-up airs on Sunday from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. Normally this line-up consists of two half-hour comedies followed by one hour-long drama (or vice versa). Other original programmings, such as talk/variety shows, appear on various nights during prime time. Special programs, such as miniseries, comedy specials, boxing events, or HBO original films, appear during prime time at a heavily advertised date (usually during a weekend). Re-runs of original programming play frequently at different times. Often HBO will schedule a marathon of episodes from a series to allow viewers to keep up with the series. Because of the mature elements often present in HBO's original programming, rarely will a series sell into syndication. However, when this does occur (e.g. Sex and the City playing on TBS), HBO will edit the syndicated program to satisfy the regulations of the channel it is playing on.

With its unoccupied airtime, HBO broadcasts movies. Feature films making their first appearance on television premier on Saturday evenings. HBO commonly plays films several times a day or week to give viewers multiple opportunities to view a particular film (however, DVR has diminished this feature’s importance). Additionally, HBO now has an On Demand feature for much of its original programming.

Related Channels

Seven channels fall under the HBO umbrella, not including Cinemax, which is HBO's sister network.

The channels are[16]:

  • HBO- the original channel, offered by some services in both a Eastern and Pacific feed.
  • HBO 2- plays similar films as the original channel, as well as reruns of series.
  • HBO Comedy- plays comedy films and reruns of comedy series and specials.
  • HBO Family- plays films and specials aimed at children (with no films rated R). Also plays series aimed at children in the morning hours.
  • HBO Signature- plays more critically-acclaimed films.
  • HBO Zone- programming for a mature audience, with softcore pornography airing at night.
  • HBO Latino- mostly plays the feed from the original channel dubbed Spanish, but also airs specifically Spanish-language films and sports events.


  1. Bernstein, Paula. "Branding bolsters expectations. (HBO at 30)." Variety 388.12 (2002): A9+. Academic OneFile. Web. 7 Oct. 2010.
  2. Bernstein, Paula. "Branding bolsters expectations. (HBO at 30)." Variety 388.12 (2002): A9+. Academic OneFile. Web. 7 Oct. 2010.
  3. Weinman, Jaime. "Get a Show on HBO and You're Set for Life." Macleans. 1 Sept. 2010. Web. 7 Oct. 2010. <>.
  4. Bernstein, Paula. "Branding bolsters expectations. (HBO at 30)." Variety 388.12 (2002): A9+. Academic OneFile. Web. 7 Oct. 2010.
  5. Bernstein, Paula. "Branding bolsters expectations. (HBO at 30)." Variety 388.12 (2002): A9+. Academic OneFile. Web. 7 Oct. 2010.
  6. Clark, Christine. "Digital Kitchen Bloodies Brand Identities for HBO." 'boards. 4 June 2009. Web. 7 Oct. 2010. <>.
  7. Cotton, Ed. "Scorcese, HBO, and Brands." Influx Entertainment. 16 Aug. 2010. Web. 7 Oct. 2010. <>.
  8. Staff Report. "HBO Voyeur Peeks With Brand Plan." The Hollywood Reporter. 29 June 2007. Web. 7 Oct. 2010. &lt;;.
  9. Reuters. "Time-Warner Merger Cleared." The New York Times 27 May 1989. The New York Times. Web. 7 Oct. 2010. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;.
  10. "Time Warner: HBO. Home Box Office." Time Warner Inc. 11 June 2010. Web. 08 Oct. 2010. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;.
  11. "Time Warner: Our Family of Brands and Supporting Organizations." Time Warner Inc. 2010. Web. 08 Oct. 2010. &amp;lt;;gt;.
  12. "HBO." 2010. (accessed October 7, 2010).
  13. Zeidler, Sue. "HBO dominates Emmy nods for 10th straight year." July 8, 2010. (accessed October 7, 2010).
  14. "Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Made for Television Movie." August 30, 2010. (accessed October 7, 2010).
  15. "HBO." 2010. (accessed October 7, 2010).
  16. "HBO." 2010. (accessed October 7, 2010).