It's withdrawal time for millions of viewers of the wildly popular Downton Abbey, the British series that just concluded its second season on PBS. The period costumes, the two-track intrigue of the nobility and working class, the witty dialogue delivered in delicious British accents — all contribute to a success on American television not seen at this level since British classics such as Upstairs Downstairs and All Creatures Great and Small had their lengthy runs on PBS.
As fans anxiously await Season Three of Downton Abbey, however, another Anglophile-wooing TV channel is trying to take advantage of the the hiatus and the halo effect of the show: BBC America.
Admittedly a relatively minor cable network, it is available in some 75 million U.S. households, and one of the few places where Americans can get their fill of British-produced shows. A subsidiary of BBC Worldwide, the BBC's commercial arm, BBC America launched in 1997 with produces its own world news program with those wonderfully plummy-accented BBC journalists plumbing the depths of stories to a much greater extent than the typical American television anchors and reporters.
But that's not where the sizzle is for BBC America; rather, the network wants prospective viewers to recognize it as a brand that telecasts some bloody good British shows including Being Human (which premieres its new season on Sat., Feb. 25), Doctor Who, The Graham Norton Show, potty-mouthed celeb chef Gordon Ramsay's various series, and the Beeb's iconic auto buff pitstop Top Gear.
Not all its programming comes from the BBC, despite its moniker. And like its American counterparts on cable BBC America is getting into the original programming game. BBCA will be launching Copper, about an 1860s Irish policeman in New York, and No Kitchen Required, a reality show that expands on the competitive cooking category that is all the rage on food networks.
To boost awareness for BBC America, the network is launching a promotional push starting this month in New York.
"We chose New York City because there's a big correlation between our audience and the mindset of smart, savvy, trendsetting New Yorkers," BBC America general manager Perry Simon told CBS News. "We knew they'd appreciate the quirkiness of our ads while giving them a glimpse into the type of irreverent and innovative content they can expect from the network. While we made a concerted decision to go local, we're thrilled the campaign is driving conversation nationally through the power of social media."
Simon also told Stuart Elliott of the New York Times that the new campaign is "designed to reach the audience we feel is our psychographic...pop-culture vultures, trend-setters and the tech-savvy." Simon adds, "We want to build from a base of New York, but not ignore the rest of the country."
Another reason to launch the campaign in the Big Apple: it's a prime spot to build brand awareness and some buzz as US TV networks are gearing up for the upfront ad sales marketplace. In addition to digital marketing with tie-ins on Facebook and YouTube, the humorous push uses primarily outdoor to attract attention, with billboards, signage at commuter rail stations in New York, New Jersey and the Metro North line, and street posters.
The creative work has an irreverence about it that is, well, typically British; Matt Stein, BBC America's marketing VP, refers to as "the British tone of voice: self-effacing, yet unbelievably confident." New Yorkers traveling by commuter rail will see posters that suggest, "Even the loudmouth next to you would sound better with a British accent," and when they throw something into the garbage cans positioned in commuter rail stations, they'll be greeted with the sign at top that reads, "BBC America. We're above the trash."
Despite the modest popularity of some of its shows, BBC America is looking for more viewers to grow. The network plans to do that with "a combination of programming and the marketing and positioning of the channel," says Perry Simon. "It's important for us to give the channel a new voice, a new attitude." And if it can trade off Downton Abbey's success... well, why not.