Various interconnects across the country finished 1998 with
healthy ad sales and projected strong 1999 totals, as well, with Adlink confident that it
will approach, if not pass, the $100 million plateau -- unprecedented for it or for any
At Adlink, the Los Angeles interconnect, president and CEO
Charlie Thurston said sales closed out at $83.1 million for 1998, up 35 percent from the
1997 mark of $61.3 million. That gave the interconnect its third strong year in a row, as
volume came "close to tripling business" compared with three years ago, Thurston
Adlink's national sales, which were up 44 percent,
accounted for $27 million of the 1998 tally, he added.
Last year's finish was due in part to a solid fourth
quarter, when political proved to be "a large driver for us and for just about
everybody," breaking $10 million, said Hank Oster, Adlink's senior vice
president of sales and marketing.
The expansion of insertable networks contributed to
Adlink's growth -- $6.5 million worth, Thurston said -- and that strategy will
continue this year. Its roster of networks climbed to 24 last year with the additions of
FX, MSNBC, Cartoon Network and The Learning Channel.
Kevin Dowell, the Chicago Cable Interconnect's
chairman, said that operation wrapped 1998 with a 46 percent increase. He added that
national sales are projected to close the year at 53 percent over budget and regional
sales at 7 percent above projections.
Focusing on the final quarter alone, he said, national was
64 percent ahead of plan and regional 10 percent.
At AdNex Detroit, Hindmarsh reported that the fourth
quarter "rose significantly, mostly due to national," although regional also
showed strength. For the full year -- its second full year as a hard interconnect --
overall growth was "respectable," he added.
The Philadelphia Interconnect, which saw its fourth quarter
finish close to budget, enjoyed "a good [full] year" in 1998, with a 25 percent
uptick to about $25 million, said Jim Klunder, its vice president and general manager.
Klunder conceded that the "fourth quarter was not as
aggressive as the previous three" -- finishing close to budget, but turning rather
sluggish beginning this past September.
He attributed that sluggishness to softness in the
Philadelphia broadcast-TV marketplace, in sharp contrast with "the overheated and
sold-out market" of 1997, which benefited cable sales.
Klunder dubbed General Motors Corp. "a big
concern" for 1999, since GM wants to take control of the ad funds that it gives to
dealers, which are estimated at $500 million.
At the New York Interconnect, Eglon Simons, vice president
and general manager, said the final quarter made budget, notching a 35 percent increase
over the corresponding 1997 span -- an apples-to-apples comparison, since he deleted Time
Warner Cable from the 1998 data.
"There have been ongoing discussions" with Time
Warner, he said; that MSO pulled out of the interconnect last March, following a
disagreement on several issues.
As for the hot categories last year, at Adlink, automotive
Media was singled out as a fast-rising category for not
only the Chicago Cable Interconnect, but also for AdNex Detroit (the Detroit interconnect)
and the Philadelphia Interconnect. AdNex not only signed cable and TV networks, but it
also broke more local TV stations than ever last year, general manager Wayne Hindmarsh
Automotive and political were also among the hot categories
at the Chicago and Detroit interconnects. Other standouts in Chicago included public
utilities, travel, financial and home furnishings.
In New York, Simons also cited media as a hot category,
along with technology, airlines and financial.
For 1999, the ad executives shrugged off any ill effects
from the lockout-shortened National Basketball Association season.
Thurston was bullish that Adlink will be "approaching
the nine-figure mark -- emphasis on approaching." Other interconnects were also
optimistic about 1999, but executives steered clear of specific projections.
Adlink's enthusiastic expectations are based less on
the return of the NBA than on its own plans to expand its insertable networks in two waves
during the year ahead.
"We're significantly up for the first
quarter," in no small part due to the NBA's return to Turner Network Television,
Oster said -- albeit with a truncated season, coverage of which began earlier this month,
with postseason games scheduled, as always, for the second quarter.
"We make a lot of money on the playoffs,"
To offset the NBA's absence from the fourth quarter
through this month, Adlink steered hoops clients into numerous male-oriented networks,
Oster said. "They could maintain [gross-rating-point] levels," he explained,
"even though they were without a [weekly game] showcase."
Dowell's crystal ball also brightened for 1999 with
the NBA's return. He predicted, "I think that this is going to be a good
year," even though the Chicago Bulls will be playing without retired superstar
"I think that we'll just make our January"
budget, despite the lack of NBA games, Dowell said, adding that the month started off
slowly in general, but that the month following the Christmas selling season is typically
a sluggish one for cable and broadcast. As for February, he described himself as
Still, the NBA isn't quite a sales slam dunk for every
interconnect or MSO.
For AdNex, the NBA, while a good sales vehicle, isn't
a make-or-break proposition, Hindmarsh said. During the player lockout, the interconnect
simply detoured NBA accounts to other sports, he added.
Klunder agreed that while it's good to have the NBA
back -- particularly the playoffs -- to sell on TNT, TBS Superstation and Comcast
SportsNet, it's not a major sales draw for the interconnect.
"We didn't hear any big demand from advertisers
[for NBA inventory]" when the league announced its comeback, Klunder said, adding
that this wouldn't have been the case with the National Football League. "We had
a great NFL sales year."
In New York, Simons said the first quarter is off to a
"phenomenal" start, due to the addition of six insertable networks this past