Any buyer or seller of network cable commercial time who wanted an upbeat assessment of the economy or ad market found just that at last week's Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau's 20th annual Cable Advertising Conference here.
Among those who offered their upbeat forecasts at the Marriot Marquis Hotel gathering, dubbed "Brands Building Brands," were American Association of Advertising Agencies CEO Burtch Drake, American Advertising Federation CEO Wally Snyder and luncheon keynoter Cable News Network Lou Dobbs Moneyline
anchor Lou Dobbs.
The current ad-spending woes "really are cyclical," Drake said. "Near-term, I don't see anything ominous happening to our business."
Noting that ad-spending data from CMR/Taylor Nelson Sofres has shown an uptick, Snyder said, "Clearly, there is light at the end of the tunnel." Ad spending should start improving at the end of the third quarter, he said.
Dobbs pronounced himself "first and foremost a bull on this economy," and said recovery is "already underway."
Although it's by no means clear how all this optimism might translate in the marketplace, CAB chairwoman Kim Kelly offered a rosy projection of her own. The Insight Communications Co. executive vice president and COO predicted that cable's total ad volume would surge from "under $150 million" in 1982 to nearly $15 billion by year-end.
Cable's programming budget — estimated at more than $7.6 billion in 2002 — and its share of the audience have also continued to soar, Kelly told the record 1,425 attendees.
Though the CAB has described its confab as cable's "official kickoff for 2002-2003 upfront planning," the upfront was barely mentioned at the daylong event.
Instead, hot-button issues included clutter, the multicultural market, sponsor-supplied programming and product placement. The latter two points were seen as a response to the growing popularity of the personal video recorder.
Snyder and DDB Worldwide chairman Keith Reinhard offered an old idea to combat the new technology — the idea of client-supported programming.
But such fare must fit a network's brand, warned Lifetime Television senior vice president of research Tim Brooks. Asked what Lifetime's reaction would be if MediaVest, Procter & Gamble Co.'s media-buying service, were to bring the network a soap-opera project, Brooks responded, "I don't know that a soap opera is right for Lifetime. It's fantasy."
The network is seeking out fare that's more contemporary and topical, he noted.
Clients are more interested in targeted programming than the movies and specials once favored by clients like P&G or Kraft Foods, noted MediaVest president of U.S. broadcast Mel Berning. A current example, he said, is Speaking of Women's Health, a Saturday-morning series on Lifetime that P&G, the network and 3,000 Wal-Mart Stores Inc. locations have promoted since late last year.
Though he noted that cable networks seem to have fared better than broadcasters in the down economy, Drake still had "a bone to pick with cable and television" with respect to clutter.
Drake contended that cable networks log "significantly more non-programming time" than their broadcast rivals. Five undisclosed cable networks run 17 commercial promo minutes an hour, according to Drake. while three others each air 16.5 such minutes.
DDB's Reinhard wasn't so anxious about the PVR onslaught, though he did concede that the "lines will continue to blur" between advertising and entertainment content.
"I'm not scared of TiVo [Inc.]," he said. "I welcome it [because] it means creating content that consumers choose
to see, as opposed to being forced to sit through 17 minutes an hour."
Drake was less defiant.
"We're all scared to death of TiVo," Drake said. "That said, sales haven't taken off yet.
"We need to embed our brand values in content," added Reinhard. "Maybe [Hidden Persuaders
author] Vance Packard was onto something."
TBS Superstation's "Dinner and a Movie" franchise and Cartoon Network are among the networks seeking product placements, said Turner Entertainment Group president of sales and marketing Mark Lazarus.
Meanwhile, there was some between-session corridor talk on Turner Network Television and Disney Channel's ad-related plans. TNT has an agreement with an unnamed client to help fund production of a family-oriented film franchise, along the lines of the Family Friendly Programming Forum's script-development deal with The WB and other broadcasters. But a TNT spokesman declined to elaborate.
And Disney Channel has just begun its on-again and off-again pursuit of "presenter" sponsors for some of its programming. In years past, the ad-free network has given billboards to such presenters as Eastman Kodak Co. and Target Stores.
"It's tough out there," conceded Carat North America CEO David Verklin, but "there are a lot of new ideas" that go beyond merely buying 30-second units.
A meeting between Carat and Nickelodeon last year resulted in a sponsorship deal for Carat client RadioShack Corp. It backed a sweepstakes tied to the Christmas release of the film Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius
plus a new toy spin-off that became the retailer's top holiday seller, he said.