Q&A: Massillon Cable’s Liz McAllister

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Massillon Cable TV has the unique advantage of not having direct competition from any broadcast stations, but the company that inserts ads on 41 cable networks still competes for local advertisers’ money with local radio stations and newspapers. Liz McAllister, ad sales manager for Massillon, sat down with Multichannel News to talk about selling local advertising in Massillon’s service territories serving 45,000 homes in Stark and Wayne Counties in Ohio. An edited transcript follows:

Q: How much of your ad sales are local vs. regional/national?

A: We are part of the Time Warner Cable interconnect in Cleveland but we are only about 3% of that DMA, so our customers are truly local. The interconnect uses about 30% of our inventory. Any regional or national sales we receive we get as part of the interconnect.

Q: How has the economy affected sales?

A: The economy has been an issue for quite some time. Ohio has had terrible mortgage problems and our community was a steel mill town and that is long gone. The [sour] economy may be affecting people on both coasts now but it’s been a problem in Ohio for years.

The auto business is very tenuous right now. But even small and long-time clients are being affected by the economy right now. We had a restaurant that has been advertising with us for years just shut down last week. They didn’t sell the restaurant, they simply closed their doors.

Hopefully, the auto business will rebound. We still have auto dealers and many are still advertising with us. But in a year’s time, we have had 12 auto dealers in our two counties alone shut down.

The pie seems to stay the same size for us. We used to have 10 local banks in our market but now we only have one. Consolidation of that business has created a bunch of mega-banks and they’re not necessarily going to buy ad space with us when they can buy regionally. We may get some revenue from the interconnect from those businesses but it’s not what we used to get when we had all those local banks vying to new customers.

Q: How are you making up for the sales you are losing?

A: We’re still seeing growth. It’s slow, but it’s still coming because there are still people who are realizing every day that we’re a great medium to reach local consumers. We have a lot of clients that may spend only a couple hundred dollars a month with us, but we are the only place they advertise. We have a large base of advertisers. Our localness is what works for us. Most of the local businesses in our communities can’t afford broadcast and it would be wasted on the consumers they are trying to reach. We have one-store owners who can buy TV in our market and it works well for the.

Q: Are you trying to add new segments to your sales mix?

A: It’s not just about adding new categories. It’s really about going deeper into the categories we already have tapped into. There are still a lot of businesses that don’t know what we can offer. We also offer opportunities for even the smallest businesses. We have offered for 25 years a photo channel that costs $125 a month. It’s amazing how many small businesses use that channel as their only means of advertising and it still amazes me at how many people tune that channel in. It’s a good way of being able to offer something for even the smallest businesses and they’re happy. They’re obviously getting business from it because many of the clients that use that service have been doing so for years. It’s priced very competitively and I want to keep it that way. I don’t want to price ourselves out of the ability of small businesses, which is really our bread and butter.

Q: Do you offer advanced advertising services?

A: Not yet. Long ago, when we were working with Worldgate, customers could be watching TV and pull up information or advertising on the web. But we haven’t done anything like that since. I would like to do some local on demand but the financials don’t work yet. Our market is so small that the number of people that might access one on demand channel would be so small it would be difficult to place a dollar value on that even though there is a value in that type of viewer. We have so many other things going on right now, it’s not at the top of our list.

Q: How has the political season shaped up for Massillon Cable?

A: It’s been a good year for us in terms of political ads. We have a state senate and house races this year and the interconnect is seeing skads of national ads. And while the political ads are always welcome it can be a double-edged sword. We have some advertisers who tell us they don’t want to advertise during October because they don’t want to get stuck in the clutter.

Q: Are there bright spots for you this year?

A: Oh sure. We are still seeing growth even if it’s not what we’ve seen in the past. We don’t have any competition from broadcasters so businesses wanting to target our customers have one option for TV. I think the local newspapers are really beginning to hurt because young people are not reading the newspaper. They are more apt to watch TV to get their news.

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