Spike TV Sends ‘Star Wars’ Soaring

Spike TV hopes viewers will feel the power of the force this weekend with its initial airings of the Star Wars saga.

The male-targeted network, which holds the basic-cable rights for the six George Lucas films through 2013, will debut uncut, digitally re-mastered HD versions of episodes I-II-III from April 4-6 from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., with The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, making their basic-cable premieres, and Revenge of the Sith, its broadcast-window bow, respectively.

The original theatricals -- Episode IV: A New Hope, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and Episode VI: Return of the Jedi –  are scheduled to run next weekend. The airings will mark the first time the six films have been together on a basic-cable service

Although Spike senior vice president, brand marketing and creative Niels Schuurmans calls Star Wars the “greatest action franchise ever,” the network recognized that its presentation wouldn't come without challenges: the films have gone through their theatrical, pay TV windows (on Home Box Office) and are widely available on DVD.

“Now, we’re asking you to watch it with commercials,” Schuurmans said.

Hence, Spike decided that it would not only bring added value to the table in terms of the digitally re-mastered and format-enhanced versions of the films, but have them complemented by extra materials aimed at Spike’s audience.

Spike’s strategy was guided by the notion of making the films special for those seeing them for the first or 100th time. With a nod to Yoda, a campaign theme stating “There is Much To Be Learned” was developed.

A key element to making that connection was Spike’s borrowing illuminating and interesting interstitials from LucasFilms’ library that the network will use to flank the features.

“There are at least two dozen interstitials available,” said Terry Minogue, executive producer at Spike TV. “But we selected the more male-oriented ones.”

Hence, viewers will see such wrapped segments as “The Birth of the Lightsaber,” “Weapons of Star Wars” and the “History of Bobafett.”

The interstitials will run before and after the films. “We certainly didn’t want to mess further with fans’ favorite franchise,” said Schuurmans, when asked whether the segments would run adjacentl to commercial breaks.

Spike also wanted to let viewers know that it was presenting Star Wars.

“We’ve developed a certain level of expectation among our viewers that we would have some unique male point of view,” said Schuurmans.

That alo manifested in some of its promos and other advertisings materials, created internally by Spike vice president of consumer marketing Todd Ames and his team, which played to Star Wars aficionados.

For instance, copy tied to ads for Princess Leia suggest “Gold Bikinis Never Go Out Of Style,” while ads touting Hans Solo’s furry co-pilot trumpet “Chewbacca: The Original Wing Man.”

On the dark side, a Dark Vader image is accompanied by the words: “A guy can only be called ‘Annie’ so many times before he snaps." Spike’s creative squad elected to dot the illustrated Darth Moll with this question: “You think your tattoos hurt?”

Spike has backed its initial Star Wars flight with a multiplatform, multimedia campaign, valued in the multimillions. It has secured a print schedule and featured extensive promotion on its own air (38% of recent promo weight has gone to support the franchise). It has also marshalled the cross-channel resources of  MTV Networks’ services, as well as avails on Sci Fi, Nat Geo and CNBC. Those promos are supplemented by spot broadcast and spot cable buys.

Online, Spike’s messages can be found on IGN, Maxim, Ask Men and Gorilla Nation Media, plus Star Wars and genre sites like Starwars.com, theForce.net and DarkHorizons.com.

The network has also amassed an expansive outdoor effort, including among other elements, 800 taxitops in New York and LA; posters on 1,000 Big Apple subway stops; and bus shelters, home, in some cases, to a sheathed light saber display.

Schuurmans and other Spike executives said there have been reports that some of the outdoor elements have disappeared from view.

“There is no bigger validation than when someone wants to possess your advertising,” said Schuurmans, noting that Leia and Chewbacca materials have been removed.

“And Chewie isn’t happy,” he quipped.

Viewers who miss the movies over the next two weekends, or want to relive the fun yet again, should know that Star Wars stunts will return under the moniker, “The Force of July” and again on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve/Christmas, according to Spike officials.