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'Two Towers' Anchors Upcoming Starz! Campaign

For Starz!, just like for Frodo, Gandalf, Aragorn and Sauron, the ring's the thing.

The premium movie channel has put the pay TV premiere of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the second installment of The Lord of The Rings trilogy, at the heart of a 48-hour programming marathon and integrated marketing and customer-acquisition campaign.

Playing off the Dec. 17 theatrical release of director Peter Jackson's adaptation of the J.R.R. Tolkien classic The Return of the King, Starz! plans a 48-hour "Lord of the Rings Weekend" Dec. 19-21.

Along with the pay-window debut of Towers, programming includes an extended version of the first film, The Fellowship of the Ring, and behind-the-scenes footage of Return's set.

Backing the promotion are a consumer sweepstakes offering three trips to New Zealand, where the films were shot, and a media campaign worth about $3 million.

"This is an opportunity to help leverage the brand and drive acquisition by telling consumers that if they want to see this great programming they need to have [Starz!]," said senior vice president of research, analysis and strategy David Charmatz said.

Three months of Starz! teaser ads for Towers will rev up across the Starz Super Pak as the weekend closes in. Charmatz estimated that from the end of September through the LOTR marathon, some 8,000 commercial units will have aired on various Starz! networks and sister channel Encore.

Cross-channel spots will begin kicking in, too.

Charmatz said media buys have been secured on DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp.'s Dish Network. And Starz! will be working on "a sales kick with four of the top eight MSOs" in select markets.

Starz also bought space in 13 print vehicles — notably Premiere, People, Time, Sports Illustrated and TV Guide— with combined impressions of about 150 million across five weeks, Charmatz said. Full-page ads will direct traffic to Towers and the sweepstakes Web site.

Banner and pop-up ads on movie Web site are part of the blitz, including positioning against Fandango's King page.

LOTR weekend efforts overlap with Starz! annual winter and Oscar promotion; the Academy Awards are on Feb. 29. Starz! has developed print pieces and collateral materials steeped in a yellowish hue with "kind of a map treatment" — a look also being extended to various Web applications.

"We wanted to keep the same look and textures across the various platforms for the [three] promotions," Charmatz said.

"We're starting to think about '04 now," Charmatz added. "With Return of the King, we should have three of the top five box-office hits of '03. [The others are Finding Nemo and Pirates of the Caribbean.] There are a lot of opportunities."