After enduring tough times last year, brighter days seem to be beckoning for the advertising community.
At last week's Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau Local Cable Sales Management Conference here, co-chairmen Billy Farina and David McFarland delivered a message about mounting momentum by yielding the podium to several sales executives who managed to post gains during last year's trying times.
Activities at the three-day gathering centered on the conference's theme: Generating ideas to boost local ad sales by focusing on initiatives that will help executives grow their businesses now — and down the road.
TURNING THE CORNER
The conference took its upbeat cue from CAB CEO Joseph Ostrow. He opened proceedings by stressing that it's time for the operators to "celebrate what appears to be a turning of the corner" to stronger 2002 sales.
He didn't mention dollar figures, but the CAB previously had projected that local and spot sales would near the $3.6 billion mark at year-end.
Ostrow's forecast was rooted in the premise that ad sales would follow network cable's projected growth in the Nielsen Media Research ratings. Specifically, he predicted that basic cable's audience share will, for the first time ever, surpass broadcast's share for the full primetime season. Already, cable has notched audience shares greater than 50 for the past three weeks, he said.
The optimistic mood was also manifested in terms of attendance. During the event Farina and McFarland — who left Lifetime Television as vice president of affiliate ad sales and distribution services last January — predicted that this year's conference would top the projected total of 700 attendees.
CAB spokesman Steve Raddock said attendance neared 750, with about 450 from the operator side, thus doubling last year's figure.
Some executives offered up positive trends that emerged from the wreckage of 2001 during a June 24 panel on last year's difficulties.
AT&T Media Services Denver general manager Pat Ivers, the panel's moderator, asked the panelists for one word that best summed up 2001.
"Terrifying," said Comcast MarketLink Washington vice president and general manager Pam Barratta. Neil Harwell, vice president and general manager of Time Warner Cable in Kansas City, chose "pain."
AT&T Media Services of Seattle vice president and general manager Maureen O'Hanlon opted for "experienced."
After "character-building" — his first choice — was vetoed by Ivers as two words, Charter Media vice president of ad sales, Midwest region Paul Sly drew applause for his substitute, "Bitch!"
Added Sly, "2001 was a learning experience from many aspects." For one thing, he said, executives learned they were right to stress the importance of getting close to the client.
"Without question, we lived that last year," he said
Some hitherto reluctant clients began listening to cable pitches, noted Hanlon. And Barratta said the difficult year "forced us to go back and look at our [business] practices."
So far in 2002, sales have improved, the executives said. Harwell noted that his company also learned to better compete. "We're on a pretty good upswing," he added, noting that sales are up 30 percent.
Referring to a scene in Braveheart
in which Mel Gibson's William Wallace character exhorts his troops to "hold … hold," O'Hanlon said, "we held our rates to the best of our abilities." Meanwhile, competing broadcasters cut theirs, and that's proven to be "a great silver lining" this year, he said.
There were other sanguine sales reports during the conference. Despite last year's depressed economy, Cable One Inc. Boise region sales manager Mike Bowker said his system's business grew by 20 percent. National Cable Communications Chicago general sales manager Dan Kripke said his office's business improved 30 percent.
SIZING UP SALES PROMOS
Affiliate sales promotions also received considerable attention at the CAB Local conference. In separate sessions, Gem Entertainment president John Zamoiski and Time Warner Cable's Harwell cited the trend toward more customized promotions in cable.
Noting the plethora of available network promotional tie-ins, Sly said, "We can't do them all, and do them well … We have to be somewhat discerning."
O'Hanlon said she tries to use as many promotions as possible for her vast array of accounts, though some programmers "ask for a lot of [promo] spots" to support them.
Turner Network Sales vice president of local ad sales Jerry Ware stressed the importance of pursuing non-traditional ad revenue, most notably ad dollars from vendors that manufacturers make available to their retailers.
As Kmart Corp. and other department stores add food departments, Revenue Development Systems general manager Elaine Clark told CAB Local attendees that there's an opportunity to get more vendor dollars in that arena.
The CAB Local also featured three keynote speakers whose goal was to motivate sales executives to think outside the proverbial box about how business will shape up in the years to come.
"The future isn't bad — it's just different," said futurist Ed Barlow, president of Creating the Future Inc.
To that end, one buyer and several sellers looked ahead to 2006.
Asked what would be different in the cable industry four years from now by Lifetime Television senior vice president of research Tim Brooks, the session's moderator, NCC CEO Tom Olson predicted an improved ability to buy and sell avails via a Web-based system that's now just getting underway.
Olson also predicted that targeting of spots toward different consumer segments — now done by Adlink, the Los Angeles interconnect — would become far more widespread.
Cable systems' ability to target neighborhoods will continue to be important in 2006, via cable programming and local Web sites, said Steve Rizley, general manager of Cox's Phoenix system. (Rizley was forced to leave hurriedly on Monday, as Arizona's widespread brush fire threatened property he owns there.)
Operators have successfully informed the ad community that spot-cable is now more buyer-friendly, that systems have on average virtually doubled their rosters of locally insertable networks, and that cable's ratings have continued to improve at broadcast's expense, said Olson.
Horizon Media senior vice president and director of local TV, radio and cable Lourdes Marquez acknowledged that spot-cable buying has become far less cumbersome than it was a few years ago, when "we had visions of people with carts of [paper] invoices."
Addressing local-ratings issues, Olson said Nielsen's local People Meter in Boston, Arbitron Inc.'s Portable People Meter (PPM) in Philadelphia and ADcom Information Services' local set-meter cable ratings in five markets are all better than Nielsen's much-criticized diary methodology.
"Our argument to [ADcom] is get it into more markets," said Olson. "Five is not enough."
Earlier this month, ADcom said it intends to add five more markets to its list by year-end.
Since Nielsen plans to add nine more local People Meter markets over the next five years and Arbitron will need a minimum of three years before it can expand the PPM beyond Philadelphia, "we'll still have to live with Nielsen" at least into 2006, Olson said.