DirecTV Inc. will muscle into the competition for national
ad dollars against broadcast and cable TV.
The direct-satellite broadcaster has signed a multi-year
deal with Columbia TriStar Advertiser Sales (CTAS) to sell the local ad avails on national
cable networks starting March 1.
CTAS said it will sell on Comedy Central, USA Network,
Turner Network Television, TBS Superstation, Arts & Entertainment Network and MTV:
Music Television among other cable services.
The partners intend to sell advertisers clusters of
networks by theme: sports, entertainment, sports and news. CTAS will also sell special
event, such as the NFL Sunday Ticket and the 1999 NCAA Men's College Basketball Tournament
The venture will also offer advertisers the opportunity to
roadblock, running spots across several networks at the same time.
DirecTV was able to make the deal after beefing up its
subscriber beef due to recent acquisitions. Executives said they believed they needed to
cross the 5-million customer threshold before they went into the advertiser community.
With the purchase of competitors U.S. Satellite
Broadcasting and PrimeStar Inc., DirecTV president Eddy Hartenstein said his service
should reach 8 to 9 million homes by the end of the year.
Ad agency representatives said they were intrigued by DBS.
"There are two principles buyers always agree on. It's
always good to have new, relevant, well-priced inventory and it's important to know what
it delivers and how it's positioned," said Bob Igiel, executive vice president, U.S.
broadcast director for Media Edge, a division of Young & Rubicam.
Buyers said they look forward to seeing DirecTV's
presentation but think the 8 million-to-9 million projection is "a little
aggressive." They were enthused about the prospects for roadblocking, however.
The ad sales effort will end an informal "partnership
program" where DirecTV sold one-year on-air promotional packages to advertisers such
as its parent, General Motors Corp. Executives said that program wasn't aggressively
pursued and DirecTV never got a fair return on the effort.
DirecTV programs 190 channels, including premium services
and music and intends to expand to 220 channels shortly, Hartenstein said.
The partners would not discuss their earnings projections
or spot pricing.
CTAS is the advertiser-supported sales division of Columbia
TriStar Television Distribution (CTTD) and has handled the ad sales for such syndicated
product as Seinfeld and Mad About You.
Barry Thurston, president of CTTD, said the ad sales
department sold between $250 million and $300 million in inventory last year, adding that
it should be the largest entertainment industry sales unit this year.
The executives said they haven't explored all the
cross-promotional possibilities between DirecTV and CTTD programs. Another avenue to be
explored are e-commerce possibilities arising from DirecTV's pacts with enhanced TV
services TiVo Inc. and Wink Communications Inc.
Columbia TriStar seemed a natural pick for DirecTV because
of the DBS' company's many links to its parent, Sony Pictures Entertainment. Sony
Electronics Inc. was the second licensee for the digital satellite system and it
manufactures some of DirecTV's uplink equipment.