Cut to CAB’s Cunningham


With the backdrop of sirens blaring from the 17th District firehouse around the corner, and the heady aroma of McDonald’s permeating the air in the building, our This Week in Cable camera crew caught up with Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau president and CEO Sean Cunningham.

One of the coolest things about our new Internet video-streaming show is I get to sit down with a different cable executive each week for a chunk of quality time — on-screen and off — to really see these leaders in a totally different light. Namely, in the glare of a camera and with everything that’s involved in staging these interviews.

During setup, I learned that Cunningham grew up one block over from where I presently live. Who knew? But again, I’m giving you way too much chatter, so I’ll cut to the chase.

Cunningham, who has been at CAB’s helm for 18 months, came to his gig at the height of consolidation. You can see and hear what he has to say about all that by clicking Multichannel News Online ( and revving up your RealPlayer.

In his office, with model vintage cars strewn about, we talked about the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for cable ad sales. It’s a new world where TiVo, TiVo-like products and product placements could wreak havoc on existig economic models.

None of those new developments particularly spook Cunningham who points out that 98% of all ad dollars are still spent in traditional 30-second pod units. But’s he’s well aware of the changing turf.

His confidence comes largely from what was a watershed event for cable last year: the upfront. That’s when, for the first time in history, ad dollars moved to cable before broadcast.

“A big correction” then took place, he said, as many cable networks banded together to effectively tell the story about reach. Turner Network Sales and the CAB itself made a compelling argument to media buyers via a new computer program that cable was a more efficient buy than broadcast, if you did some new math.

Having said that, Cunningham acknowledges that the cable marketplace still has some catching up to do, namely on the political advertising front. This past election year, cable clearly did not get its share of ad dollars.

And that’s a problem. While cable has made major local ad sales inroads in general, just how do you get political dollars from campaign managers who swarm into a given market only every two or four years?

Nielsen’s Local People Meters already show that cable viewing is being underreported by 40% in major markets like Los Angeles and New York.

Cunningham also has a different view of what the head of a cable trade association should be doing. He has absolutely no interest in running an organization. Rather, he sees his role as to get buyers and sellers of television time to more effectively use the medium.

Sounds on message to me. See for yourself.