No. 268: The Billions Effect

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Affleisure: affluent leisure. Showtime’s hit series Billions peers into the life of Bobby Axelrod, a 9/11 survivor who rose through the ranks to become a billionaire hedge fund investor only to establish a rivalry with U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades. Axelrod is loosely based on hedge fund manager Steve Cohen and is described as a man from humble beginnings. This is the appeal of the most polarizing character on television. And he is just one part of premium cable television’s most talked about show.

If you’ve built a great product, you’ll need an audience. And if you’ve built a captive audience, you’ll need a great product. The study of content x commerce shouldn’t be reduced to digital publishing.  We see examples of media properties’ influence on commerce all around us. As such, analysts cannot ignore the influence that Billions and, particularly, Damien Lewis’ portrayal of ‘Bobby Axelrod’ has had on apparel consumers.

Historically, a media property’s proof of influence is the measure that drives advertising revenue. Thanks to a shift to streaming media, media conglomerates like Showtime, Inc. will measure this data in new ways. Namely: how will this media property advance our subscription business? 

The show, which averages between 4.5-to-5 million weekly viewers across platforms, has a very loyal legion of fans that via word-of-mouth, have helped grow the show’s viewership season-over-season. Throughout season two, the series grew on Sunday nights by more than 35% from premiere-to-finale. And, the season three premiere was the show’s highest-rated ever with the March 25 debut up 23% from last year.

Fans Love Billions, Forbes

Taking note of the viral spread of pop culture trends based on influence, Showtime recognized the opportunity to drive an additional revenue stream beyond the standard media subscriptions and event sponsorship (boxing, etc.).

Here is a recap from Issue No. 252: Content x Commerce Super Powers:

Billion’s Axe Capital is one of the most intriguing fictional companies on television. It should be no surprise that I’ve stumbled upon a handful of sophisticated finance-types wearing these branded hedge fund vests on a spring day in Manhattan. They are in on the joke.

But more than just intellectual property hawking, Showtime is innovating here. Their commerce software is capable of overlaying store content on screen during broadcasts.

Connekt’s patent for T-Commerce enables seamless and secure viewer engagement and checkout by combining consumer profiles with pre-existing registration services.

Showtime is preparing for an Apple TV-driven entertainment world where purchasing products is as simple as authorizing your iTunes account to spend $44.95 for the hoodie that Bobby Axelrod was wearing.

See the Showtime store here.

As media and branding continues to converge, controlling the ecosystem is key for many industry players. One of 2PM’s capstone beliefs is that success in merchandising is a foremost indicator that a publisher’s existing community can grow by word of mouth. And without the pull of fickle social networks or a weakening advertising business.

Web Smith on Twitter

Bobby Axlerod is influencing white collar soccer dads. Everyone is dressed in head-to-toe, all-black, biz-athleisure.

This is where cultural impact comes into play. Unlike viewership and eCommerce sales, culture can be difficult to quantify. But it’s apparent that the show is influencing its target demo: 24-39 year old males.

Type “Bobby Axelrod” into Google and the first recommendation that pops up is “Bobby Axelrod hoodie.” So, to satisfy your curiosity: Mr. Axelrod, the cool-as-an-ice-cube-in-Alaska protagonist of Showtime’s series “Billions,” wears Loro Piana zip-ups. They’re cashmere and just in case you’re really interested in dressing like the man who makes the billions on “Billions,” each one costs $2,295. 

How to Dress Like a Billionaire, Wall Street Journal

There is a palpable shift in both the style of clothing and the color palette used by the upper-middle class fans of the show in Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, New York, and even the metropolitan midwestern cities. Brands are beginning to partner with Showtime to capitalize on this.

Last week, Brooklyn’s Greats Brand released an ultra-limited edition Axelrod shoe; 100 pairs of the premium Italian-suede shoes sold out in under 17 minutes. Viewers are so drawn to morally-ambiguous Bobby Axelrod that they’re buying shoes in his name.

May 2018 saw peak search traffic for the ‘Billions’ character

CEO of GREATS Brand (2PM No. 73), Ryan Babenzien had this to say in defense of the collaboration:

Bobby Axelrod is a man from humble beginnings. A desire to escape his means and prove his ambition drove years of hustling and grinding. Add no small amount of cunning, and eventually Axe made himself into one of the most powerful men on Wall Street: a bona fide billionaire. We admire Axe for his ambition as much as we do for his style. Favoring a well-worn pair of jeans and Metallica t-shirt over the obvious power-suit, Axe carries himself with the confidence and understated elegance that we appreciate here at GREATS. With Axe as our inspiration, we partnered with Showtime to create our richest Royale yet.

Billions has achieved a television milestone like only a handful of shows before it. It’s influenced men’s fashion by redefining business casual (specifically high dollar affleisure) for white collar workers. Babenzien’s aforementioned statement perfectly summarized the character’s appeal. The shoe collaboration further established the influence of the show’s culture and the virtuous cycle of water cooler chatter, media buzz, and search traffic around each week’s episode. Coincidentally, the most recent Sunday night was the show’s strongest in its three year history.

Read more of the issue here.

By Web Smith and Meghan Terwilliger | About 2PM

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