Mark Cuban: HDNet, YouTube, Mavericks and the art of calculated hype

Mark Cuban got away cheap this morning in New York City. His Advertising Week keynote lobbed digs at the National Basketball Association (NBA), but no fines were levied for conduct unbecoming.

Mark Cuban got away cheap this morning in New York City. His Advertising Week keynote lobbed digs at the National Basketball Association (NBA), but no fines were levied for conduct unbecoming.

The “out-of-control” on the basketball court Cuban was no where to be found on the staid McGraw Hill auditorium stage. For more than an hour Cuban charmingly put forth his familiar critiques of the NBA and YouTube while shrewdly building an advertising business case for high-def programming and his own HDNet.

Chuck Ross, editor & publisher of Television Week, opened his keynote discussion with Cuban by signaling the keynote discussion he had earlier in the week with Bob Wright, chairman, NBC Universal. Ross noted that while both Cuban and Wright are business savvy with established track records of success, it is Mark Cuban who benefits from his own individual “brand” image,” while Wright, although accomplished, does not embody a personal brand.

What does Cuban attribute his personal authority to?: 

I don’t care what people think.
I don’t say “no comment.”
I don’t media speak, even if it gets expensive at times.

Cuban believes that by speaking his mind, “even if it gets expensive,” fans and consumers see him as a “man of the people” taking “the people’s side.”


Cuban may be primarily aiming to take his own side, however, rather than the “people’s side.” For example, Cuban recounted how he implemented a calculated strategy to spur feelings of an intense team rivalry between the Dallas Mavericks and the San Antonio Spurs last season with the goal of promoting attention to the playoff series. Cuban was quoted by the AP at the time:  

‘We need intense, bloodthirsty, Red Sox-Yankees rivalries in this league,’ said Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who has riled up both sides.

‘People who work side by side say, 'Oh, I hate (your team). Let's go get a beer and we'll scream about it at the bar.' ... This type of series leads to those things’’…

saying before Game 6 that the Mavericks were going to kick the Spurs back to the ‘muddy-watered thing they call a Riverwalk.’

NBA Commissioner David Stern has expressed concern that Cuban’s antics “get more publicity than the games.”

Stern’s reluctance to draw attention to Cuban’s Maverick moves was cited by USA Today last June after the NBA levied a $250,000 fine against Cuban for "several acts of misconduct" committed after the Maverick’s loss to the Miami Heat in Game 5 of the finals:

In Dallas for Game 6, Stern told reporters that he thought twice about taking any action against Cuban because he knew it would keep the focus where he didn't want it. However, he felt there was no choice.

'If we are going to hold coaches, players and fans accountable, then we have to hold owners accountable, too,' Stern said.”

This morning, Cuban characterized his relationship with Stern:

We don’t talk
We don’t write.
The less the better.

Cuban also reiterated his thoughts on YouTube. At his Blog Maverick, Cuban recently wrote about what he projects will be a “coming dramatic decline of YouTube”:

This so reminds me of the early days of Napster. They were the first to tell you it wasnt illegal. They didnt host anything but an index to link to all the illegal downloaders. Youtube doesnt upload anything illegal and will take down whatever you ask them to. Sounds legit right?

No, but thats not the thing…Considering the RIAA will sue your grandma or a 12 year old at the drop of a hat, the fact that Youtube is building a traffic juggernaut around copyrighted audio and video without being sued is like.... well Napster at the beginning as the labels were trying to figure out what it meant to them…

Whats worse for Youtube is that there might finally be an economic model for the copyright owners to host their own videos. Advertisers are chomping at the bit to buy rich media advertising and copyright owners are chomping at the bit to provide them broadband content for their ads.

While Cuban is bearish on YouTube’s video prospects, he is an unqualified bull on the prospects for his own HDNet. In a Blog Maverick post last year, Cuban put forth a “coming golden age of television,” which will have high-def programming, and HDNet, at its core:

consumers are going to expect more and more High Definition programming. They will be buying 10s of millions of High Definition sets over the next couple years and the more HD content, they get, the more they will want.

A recent CNET interview, “Mark Cuban: from hoops to HD,” noted “by promoting HDNet, which bills itself as the nation's first television network to broadcast exclusively in high definition, Cuban has become an unofficial spokesman for the HD format.”

Cuban is quoted on his view of the future of HD and HDNet:

HDTV home penetration will continue to accelerate, and sales of analog will go away, for the most part. There are no major hurdles to overcome. The game is over. HDTV is on its way to becoming ubiquitous.

I always look for conventional wisdom that is wrong--then (I find) opportunity. The conventional wisdom of the late 1990s and early 2000s was that HDTVs were too expensive and would always be that way.

I looked at HDTVs and saw not only a compelling TV experience but a digital product that would follow the same price performance curve as all other digital products. The features and performance would improve while the price came down quickly…

Our challenge in starting HDNet was in finding and creating content in HD, getting distribution and an audience, and establishing ourselves before the rest of the TV world realized the value of HD.

This morning, before an audience of advertising and media execs, Cuban evangelized an inherent attractiveness of high-def advertising and the appeal of HDNet, in particular.

According to HDNet:

HDTV Viewers and High Definition Commercials

Anybody with an HDTV knows Commercials in High Definition are going to have a big effect.
Most commercials are being 'shot' in HD, but are they being 'edited' in HD?
What are you going to say when your client asks you about high definition viewers?
What impact is HDTV viewership going to have on your product message? How is your creative, post production, and media buy, impacted by HDTV?

HDNet knows High Definition Commercials

HDNet has been broadcasting nationally, exclusively in High Definition, since 2001.
HDNet produces more HD programming than ANY other network.
HDNet has as many High Definition viewers as ANY network.  

During the Q & A, I asked Cuban the following:

You began your talk by indicating you purposefully made provocative comments last season about an opposing sports team to build your Mavericks' value. Are the provocative comments you made about YouTube this morning designed to build the value of your HDNet?

Cuban responded by restating his case for why YouTube “so reminds me of the early days of Napster.”


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