Showtime’s Advice: Hype 'Huff’

Psychiatrist series Huff shouldn’t get a complex over the amount of marketing support it’s receiving from Showtime: The network has turned to sister services within Viacom Inc., as well as cable and direct-broadcast satellite distributors.

The multimillion-dollar marketing blitz for the new original series is one of Showtime’s biggest campaigns yet, executives said.

In addition to running a free preview weekend on DirecTV Inc., EchoStar’s Communications Corp.’s Dish Network and Voom for the 13-episode series, which premiered last night, Showtime bought ads on Viacom siblings CBS, MTV: Music Television, VH1, Nick at Nite, TV Land and Comedy Central.

It’s the first time that Showtime has marketed the launch of a new series on broadcast TV, Showtime executive vice president of creative and marketing Len Fogge said.

“We’re spending as much on Huff as any series we’ve launched,” Fogge added.

Showtime also bought spots on Viacom-owned Infinity Broadcasting Corp. radio stations and on billboards owned by Viacom Outdoor. Even Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone’s National Amusements movie-theater chain is getting into the act, running a sweepstakes where winners received tickets to the Huff premiere.

Showtime isn’t necessarily spending less by tapping the Viacom properties than it would have if it bought spots on rivals such as NBC, said Fogge, noting that the premium network does pay its corporate cousins for the ad time.

“We obviously are sister companies, and we work very closely together. We’re buying stuff there [on Viacom properties] because it’s the best place to buy,” Fogge said.

EchoStar, DirecTV and Voom were all scheduled to run a free preview of the Showtime Unlimited multiplex channel package this past weekend, which network executives said made the Huff premiere available to more than 21 million households.

DirecTV is offering subscribers that order Showtime Unlimited before Nov. 30 three DVD titles from Viacom’s Paramount Pictures subsidiary.

EchoStar has backed Huff with a promotion that it will run in the fourth quarter, offering new Showtime subscribers a $50 gift card that could be used to buy Samsung Electronics America Inc. mobile phones at RadioShack Corp. outlets.

Although the cable community didn’t engage in the free previews, several operators are running local promos for Huff.

Charter Communications Inc. systems nationwide are running tune-in spots for a Showtime On Demand campaign, offering viewers a chance to win a trip to the Huff production set. The cross-channel spots feature a pitch from Huff stars Hank Azaria, who plays Dr. Greg Huffstodt, and Oliver Platt, who portrays the shrink’s lawyer and best friend Russell, to watch the show.

Charter also ran an article on Huff in its Charter Zone e-newsletter, which is sent to 1.3 million high-speed data subs.

Systems owned by Comcast Corp. in the San Francisco and Sacramento, Calif. DMAs are backing the launch of the series by offering samples of the show for 90 days on its video-on-demand servers.

Cox Communications Inc. is also airing cross-channel spots featuring Azaria and Platt, and the MSO also put Huff on the cover of its Cox Cable Ready print cable guide. It’s also running a promotion on its high-speed data service featuring a Huff trailer.

Showtime said it’s teaming with Time Warner Cable on a fourth-quarter marketing campaign that includes co-branded direct response television spots for the pay service, and a direct mail campaign. Time Warner’s DTV Views magazine includes an interview with Azaria, who also graces the cover.

National Cable Television Cooperative members will run a subscriber acquisition campaign with Showtime that includes direct mail and cross-channel spots. Subscribers on NCTC systems that order both Showtime and a high-speed Internet service will also get a free wireless mouse.