Showtime Networks: Brands Can Do More Than Banner Ads on Mobile

When it comes to mobile advertising, it is possible for brands to think outside the box. Showtime Networks executives believe there’s so much brands can do in the mobile space and that it’s necessary to go beyond the overused static display ads in order to reach consumers.

According to Ken Todd, vice president of digital content syndication and mobile development at Showtime, the premium cable network puts a big focus on mobile when promoting its programming.

“The world has changed,” Todd said during the IAB Mobile Marketplace in New York. “After the App Store was launched, Showtime started developing some mobile applications to offer our subscribers a more personal experience. We have developed apps for short-form content, video, trivia games, as well as sharable and customized content to reach our networks.”

He continued that compared to TV and desktop, there are much more technical creative constraints in mobile advertising. “But as mobile continues to grow, we want to go beyond typical banner ads,” he said.

One of Showtime’s special executions on this front, explained Todd, is the network’s sponsorship with the South by Southwest (SXSW) Go app, a mobile guide to the festival.

Showtime has been sponsoring this app for the past three years, but each year the company takes a different approach to promote its programs.

“For the first year, we really wanted to do more than just placing program promotion banners. We wanted to create additional utility for the users of the app,” said Todd.

To achieve the goal, the network pulled real-time location data from Foursquare and Twitter, and used Google Maps to show SXSW attendees trending locations from the event, as well as trending bars, restaurants, and social media hashtags.

“We used some fun copies and call-to-action [in the primary banner ads]. The only attribution we had for Showtime was a little front Showtime banner on the landing page for the trending information. And at the bottom of the landing page, it featured a video of the day for one of our programs,” Todd said.

Last year, Showtime took a more frontal approach for its program promotion. “Since we wanted to promote the upcoming Penny Dreadful premiere and we were also screening Pilot at SXSW 2014, we wanted to provide simultaneity and have a sense of fun in it,” Todd said.

Different from the trending data approach Showtime used a year prior, the network developed a Tarot card mobile game for the Go app, and integrated all SXSW schedules and trending spots into it. A user could select three cards and was given a Tarot reading. Once given the reading, Showtime would suggest which SXSW sessions the user should attend during the day, and which bars and restaurants they should go to at night.

During SXSW this year, Showtime took a more straightforward approach. “We wanted to present app users an entertainment experience, rather than just a trailer of a specific show. So we decided to capitalize on the festival-goer experience,” said Todd.

He explained that SXSW attendees usually have to wait in line, either for a panel discussion or transportation. “So how can we utilize that? Let’s provide them with some TV to watch,” he said.

Therefore, Showtime programmed a stream of short-form entertainment content, including behind-the-scene videos, trailers, and documentaries. In addition to the stream, the network also provided some content on demand within the app.

Aside from its sponsorship of the SXSW Go app, Showtime has released its own mobile app called “Showtime Sync” to allow TV viewers to interact with a show in real time. The network has also run a takeover on The New York Times iPad app to promote its show Ray Donovan, experimented with interactive interstitial content for The Affair, and created shake-to-reveal content for Homeland.

“As we go through the creative classes every time, we are thinking about how can this be different? How can this utilize the capabilities of the native device? And how can we stand out and make our programming really jump out?” said Todd. “We all know that mobile is a very personal and intimate device, so we are trying to not to [be intrusive]. But if we catch your attention, we want to merge you into the programs that Showtime provided and give you a memorable experience.”

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