Now that MSOs' desire for more local avails is out of the
box, National Cable Communications' John Sawhill believes there are ways of accomplishing
that without getting the time from the reluctant cable networks.
Ajit Dalvi, senior vice president of programming and
strategy at Cox Communications Inc., may have taken the issue public in June, but various
MSOs have for some time been quietly prospecting for ways to gain more local
availabilities, according to Sawhill, NCC's executive vice president and CEO.
Using the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau's Local Cable
Sales conference as his platform, Dalvi called for more local inventory -- specifically,
one extra minute per hour -- from the cable networks.
Fellow panelists Lou Borelli, executive vice president and
chief operating officer at Marcus Cable Co. L.P., and Julie Dexter Berg, executive vice
president and chief marketing officer at MediaOne, supported him.
NCC's Sawhill, who has long been pondering ways to increase
avails for MSOs, suggested a couple of ways to add inventory:
* The national spot cable rep firm could purchase units
from the cable networks "at the going rate and then resell those spots for a lot
more" on the MSOs' behalf, he said, without going into the logistics.
That sales strategy has been broached among top 10 MSOs,
but only informally, he said. (Some of those MSOs are not among the four owning 50 percent
of NCC: Cox, Time Warner Cable, MediaOne and Comcast Cable Communications.) Before
proceeding, he said he would need a more official "consensus" from the MSOs.
* Create so-called "cable indies." This concept
would have operators buying relatively inexpensive syndicated programming and scheduling
it on their local origination channels, much as independent television stations do, he
Or MSOs like Cox could add appropriate syndicated fare to
their regional news channels, he said. They would simply be expanding on what they already
do, he said, since many such channels already carry non-news programs.
Others noted that those programs include sports, personal
finance and health/fitness.
Such syndicated programming would have to be "in the
public domain or not licensed" in a given MSO's market or markets, Sawhill
emphasized, since cable operators certainly couldn't afford to engage in a bidding war
with broadcasters or pay the "huge" fees associated with clearing rMDUL_OprahrMDNM_,
Sawhill said he has talked about his "cable
indies" notion to some syndicators on an unofficial, "what if" basis. Most
have replied, "Make me an offer," he said -- but he can't do that. Once again,
he said, "That's up to the operators."
Meanwhile, another cable operator, who did not want to be
quoted, mentioned a third potential scenario. One system or MSO could take a program that
it produces locally or regionally and make it available to other cable systems -- assuming
it "travels well," he said.
In the meantime, with very few established or new networks
offering more than the average two minutes hourly, most operators felt that they will have
to continue generating additional inventory as they've been doing it lately -- by using
digital ad insertion technology to add insertable channels.
Time Warner CityCable, for instance, plans to hike the
number of its insertable channels to 30 by the fourth quarter, Larry Fischer, president of
the ad sales arm of Time Warner Cable of New York City, disclosed.