Cable ad-sales executives were jubilant about the year to
date and bullish on the rest of 1998 as they prepared last week to attend the fifth-annual
Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau Local Cable Sales Management Conference in Denver,
which runs through Tuesday.
Local-sales performance has been "great," said
Jerry Machovina, executive vice president of ad sales at Tele-Communications Inc.'s
TCI Media Services. "I've never seen it so good" in 23 years in cable and
broadcast sales, he said, and that strength cuts across virtually all TCI markets and ad
Larry Zipin, Time Warner Cable's vice president of ad
sales, described the year as "terrific, with no indication that the pace will
change." At Time Warner CityCable, the ad-sales arm for Time Warner Cable of New York
City, president Larry Fischer cited March, May and June as record months.
Kevin Dowell, group ad director at Jones Intercable Inc. in
Chicago, said, "We've had a great first half." So did Ron Pancratz, vice
president of ad sales at Cable One.
The only potentially dark cloud on the sales horizon,
various MSO sales executives agreed, was the United Auto Workers' strike against
General Motors Corp., which could lead to ad-spending cuts by dealerships.
The CAB is projecting attendance at the show at a record
1,100, drawing from sales executives from the MSO and system levels, as well as
interconnects, national spot-sales rep firms and vendors.
Today (July 13), Leo J. Hindery Jr., president and chief
operating officer of TCI, will be the MSO keynoter for the conference, which is aimed at
helping attendees to grow their ad-sales businesses.
Last week, MSOs reported upbeat results for the first half
of the year:
"We're hitting on all cylinders,"
Machovina said, noting, "Every month has been ahead of plan."
The first half exceeded any similar stretch dating back 10
years, he said. Declining to be specific, he would only say that first-half local-sales
growth was "north of 20 percent." Those were "same-store" comparisons,
excluding acquisitions, he added.
May alone was "huge, north of 40 percent,"
bolstered by having five weeks instead of last year's four, he explained. The economy
and "great returns from digital ad insertion" were among key lift factors,
The only thing tempering his optimism for the second half
was the GM strike. "I'm anxious about its impact going forward," Machovina
Zipin said Time Warner Cable's second quarter
outperformed the corresponding 1997 span by 26 percent. That, coupled with its 28 percent
first-quarter growth, put its first half ahead of 1997 by 26 percent; both periods were
well ahead of budget, he added.
At TWCC, Fischer said total local sales rose 25 percent in
the second quarter, as well as in the half, "so we're in great shape, with the
third quarter looking real strong." TWCC was almost at its July budget as of July 1,
By category, the usual suspects fueling TWCC's growth
included entertainment, movies, music and technology -- especially Internet-related
accounts -- Fischer said. TWCC has also enjoyed an "exceedingly strong"
baseball-sales rebound, particularly in the auto-dealer and auto-aftermarket sectors,
partly fueled by the New York Yankees-New York Mets "subway series" in late June
At Jones, Dowell said the second quarter rose by 25
percent -- bolstered by a 36 percent jump in May and a 23 percent hike in June -- and the
first half by 23 percent, both ahead of budget. Category gains were tallied almost across
the board, he said, singling out home improvement.
The Chicago Bulls' National Basketball Association
championship season also accelerated the pace, he said. Dowell's other concern's
besides the GM strike is how the reconfigured Bulls team may affect second-quarter sales
Donning his Chicago Cable Interconnect chairman's hat,
Dowell said that group notched sales growth of 40 percent for the half, 17 percent ahead
Cable One ran 30 percent ahead of 1997 for both the
second quarter and the first half, Pancratz said, with health care, auto-related products
and services and retail among segments fueling the surge.
Although July is "spotty," he was optimistic
about setting a sales record for the year.
Others, like Filemon Lopez, senior vice president of
ad sales at Comcast Corp.'s Comcast Cable Communications, and Pat Esser, vice
president of ad sales at Cox Communications Inc., were reluctant to talk in detail about
the first half.
Lopez said Comcast's results for that span are
"slightly ahead of the target that we set." He added, "Just about every
category is pretty strong."
While he's bullish on the rest of the year, Lopez said
he had one concern -- that the GM strike may mean that fewer cars will be produced for
sale, in turn leading to dealership spending cuts.