CAB ’06: Old Meets New

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Local cable advertising executives who are feeling stretched in two directions can thank the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau, whose 2006 Sales Management Conference in Atlanta blended dizzying discussions about revolutionary advertising technologies with workmanlike examinations of ad sales management fundamentals.

Not since the introduction of digital ad-insertion systems in the early 1990s has technology so thoroughly dominated local cable advertising’s business agenda. At the CAB conference, attendees ricocheted from think tank-styled sessions on VOD and Web-enabled advertising to panel discussions about elemental tactics for managing sales teams and pitching local businesses.

The result was a juxtaposition of technology-inspired business possibilities, lined up alongside a traditionalist sales-management agenda, that produced some interesting contrasts. Among them:

  • Auto makers are embracing cable like never before…or not. When the world’s largest automaker starts advising local cable companies on how to organize their digital technology platforms to capture more spending, there’s little doubt that local cable advertising has stepped up to the big leagues. General Motors Corp. media executive Betsy Lazar did just that in a CAB keynote presentation, suggesting the right sort of consistency in the way MSOs offer on-demand advertising could help the industry capture big shares of GM’s growing new-media budgets. Already, GM is placing long-form VOD advertising through four large MSOs, with Time Warner Cable the latest. But that eager embrace stands in contrast to widely reported declines in the local automotive category for more traditional cable spot business.
  • New cable advertising technologies are sparking big interest among national brands, but the traditional national spot category remains soft. Names like Ford Motor Co. and American Express Co. decorate the list of companies smitten by new possibilities in interactive TV advertising offered by the likes of Cablevision Systems Corp., which has rolled out a range of interactive ad options over the last 12 months. But at the same time, several cable ad managers present at the CAB conference complained their revenues from the national spot market are pacing at or below 2005 levels, and at one panel session, some said they’re dismayed by generous “bonus” spots – tantamount to free commercial time – handed out to clients by national reps as a way to win business.
  • Political advertising could benefit from cable’s rising viewership and its on-demand ad platforms, but political media buyers continue to struggle with inventory allocation issues. Addressing a packed CAB session, Georgia Democratic media advisor Robert Kahn praised cable’s ability to deliver strong advertising exposure across targeted voter blocs, and expressed intrigue over the role VOD ad messages could play in 2006 campaigns. But he said buyers in the category get frustrated by cable companies that won’t make available enough commercial inventory to satisfy campaigns that covet prime positions. That’s one reason Kahn directed only $1 million of the $15 million spent by Georgia gubernatorial candidate Roy Barnes on cable TV in the state’s 2002 race. “That’s all we could get,” Kahn said.

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