HBO Builds 'Rome' Hype With Free Skin For Firefox

Cable channel HBO's Internet-marketing campaign for its upcoming series "Rome" includes a relatively new type of promotional vehicle: a free, downloadable "skin" for the Firefox web browser.
Cable channel HBO's Internet-marketing campaign for its upcoming series "Rome" includes offering a downloadable "skin" for the Firefox web browser, a rival of Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer that has attracted millions of users. A "skin," or what Firefox creator Mozilla Foundation calls a "theme," is an application that can change the look and feel of the user interface of the open-source browser. The modifications can range from simply changing colors to replacing every piece of the browser's appearance.

HBO plans to start offering the digital skin Wednesday on its "Rome" website , turning Firefox into a kind of billboard for the series, which debuts Aug. 28. "Rome" takes place in 52 B.C., at a time when the empire was beginning the transition from a republic to a dictatorship.

In choosing Firefox, HBO is looking to tap its millions of users. The browser has been downloaded more than 80 million times from the foundation's website. The browser has gained attention as its market share has increased, apparently at the expense of Microsoft's dominant IE. Market share numbers for Firefox, however, vary considerably among web metrics firms, ranging from 6.75 percent to 14 percent.

New York advertising firm Deep Focus is handling the online campaign for HBO and chose Firefox because many of its users are early adopters of technology. This type of consumer often identifies himself through the technology he uses, Ian Schafer, president and co-founder of Deep Focus, said.

"It's an audience that wants to get in on things first," Schafer said. "So the hypothesis we're making is not only do they want to get in on the latest and greatest technology, but they'll also want to be a part of the latest programming as well.

"It's an audience that turns on the buzz on a lot of things, not just technology."

In addition, HBO doesn't pay Mozilla for use of the browser, which is available for free, as open-source software, Schafer said. The cable channel's cost is only in building the skin application.

HBO is not the first entertainment company to use Firefox as part of an online ad campaign, Asa Dotzler, product release manager for the browser, said in a blog posting. Warner Bros. also used the browser in promoting the summer movie "Batman Begins."

"Firefox is becoming a standard piece of the online-marketing kit for many organizations, and for good reason: We've got a high quality brand that brings in customers," Dotzler said.

Earlier this month, the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation launched a separate for-profit company, called Mozilla Corp., to handle marketing and development of Firefox and the foundation's Thunderbird email client.

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