On Dustin Hoffman and Producers as Curators


Dustin Hoffman stands on top of a skyscraper in the morning sunlight, the endless New York skyline twinkling seductively behind him.

“Stories,” he starts with a confiding smile, and I think it’s going to be an ad in praise of high-rise real estate in the Big Apple.

Of course I’m wrong: this is about Stories and their hold over us, a beautifully-shot piece to camera to announce the arrival this week of new channel Sky Atlantic. Confusion over, I’m hooked: it looks amazing, and I want Dustin to be my dad. I await the strapline, surely something inspiring about the power of storytelling that I can write on a post-it and treasure. “Sky Atlantic…” - here it comes, here it comes - “…the home of HBO.”

Ah. Not quite what I expected. But absolutely savvy marketing. Those three letters do more for Sky Atlantic than the most elegantly-crafted hymn to humanity ever could. HBO stands for quality US television. Sex in the City, The Wire, True Blood, The Sopranos: the type of shows you don’t just want to watch but want to own and show you own with a big shiny box on your bookshelf.

But the choice to put HBO, which will provide 40% of content for the new channel, at the heart of the channel brand represents an interesting power shift in the world of TV. We usually look to channels themselves to be our entertainment curators and quality mark, while producers are relegated to a mere logo at the end of the credits; films might recourse to the odd “from the studio that brought you” line, but not TV. HBO of course has channels in its own right in the States, but here it’s used by Sky Atlantic in its capacity as production house to set the tone for a whole new channel.

This could open the door for other producers to establish brands that are more to audiences than a logo popping up at the end of a show. At a recent talk, Rob Clark, Fremantle’s President of Worldwide Entertainment Brands, suggested that audiences weren’t interested in the production company, only the programme brand itself. Yet on the X Factor last year, the judges waited anxiously for a call from “the producer”, whom we then saw in his office giving the news of which category they would be mentoring. It seemed to be a conscious elevation of the role and importance of the production company in the eyes of the audience.

It would make sense. In the infinite sea of choice that changes in TV technology will promise, channel brands will be beacons of quality and ready-made viewing decisions. It wouldn’t be surprising if more production brands wanted to compete for that role. HBO is trailblazing once again: not just through creating brilliant TV, but through leveraging its influence in a time where respected brand real estate will pay back manifold. After all, isn’t that what a good story does?

Susie Braun, Strategic Planner