Like a rock singer trying to call attention to an image
change, the cable industry has just hit the road to talk up national spot cable as an
increasingly buyer-friendly part of the media mix, in a series of National Spot Cable
The spot tour -- mounted jointly by the Cabletelevision
Advertising Bureau and cable rep firms National Cable Communications and Cable Networks
Inc. -- is the first of its kind. Having begun last week with stops in Dallas and Atlanta,
it will reach a total of seven markets within 16 days this month.
The forums will be more educational than hard-sell, said
Steve Houck, NCC's affiliate-relations vice president, and Deborah Cuffaro,
CNI's senior vice president, in a joint telephone interview.
The road show's remaining stops are San Francisco
(Oct. 20), Los Angeles (Oct. 21), Chicago (Oct. 26), New York (Oct. 28) and Detroit (Oct.
29). All told, 1,300 advertising people will attend, ranging from 120 in San Francisco to
300 in Los Angeles, Houck projected. Interconnects will cohost in each city -- for
example, Adlink in Los Angeles -- he said.
About 60 percent of national spot business is booked
outside of New York, Houck said, and "the bulk of that, but certainly not all
national spot, is bought" in the six non-New York markets on this tour.
This aggressive spot strategy in a sense borrows a page
from the major cable networks, which do upfront sales pitches each spring to the ad
communities in key markets.
"But we're not selling," Cuffaro emphasized.
Since national spot inventory isn't bought in advance the way that network time is,
the main thrust of the spot presentations will be to bring advertisers and their agencies
up to speed on the improvements that have made spot buying less complicated, Cuffaro and
Since the rep firms' account executives tend to spend
most of their time reacting to buyers' needs, they can't present information as
detailed as what can be presented in this format, Cuffaro said. Reaching multiple layers
within agencies is another key goal of this tour, she added -- meaning planners, as well
"We want them to know that we've cleaned up our
act," Houck said, in a reference to the growth of electronic data interchange and the
now-widespread digital ad-insertion technology that boosts buying flexibility while
improving "run rates."
In short, the presentations will hammer away at a point
made recently by Ed Dunbar, vice president of ad sales at MediaOne and chairman of the
CAB's committee on national spot advertising.
"Enhanced digital insertion capabilities, increasingly
strong interconnects and ongoing improvements in back-office operations have made spot
cable more finely tuned than ever to the needs and objectives of marketing and media
strategists," Dunbar said.
Ironically, the No. 1 DMA has gone against the
one-stop-shopping trend, to two stops for buyers, since last spring, when Time Warner
Cable pulled out of the New York Interconnect. Talks began earlier this fall to resolve
Dunbar's comment was in conjunction with the
CAB's announcement last month that national spot sales had jumped 45 percent in the
first half alone, bolstered by a robust 53 percent in the second quarter -- both record
Now, national spot is coming off a record-breaking third
quarter and year to date, Cuffaro and Houck said.
Categories fueling the record pace included the usual
suspects, from telecommunications, to financial, to new technology. In telecommunications,
the growth was attributable to the long-distance telephone wars, Cuffaro noted.
Earlier this year, the CAB projected that national spot and
local combined would reach $2.2 billion, up $300 million from $1.9 billion in 1997. Of
that, Kevin Barry, the CAB's vice president of local sales and marketing, estimated
that national spot will account for $300 million this year, up $40 million since 1997.
The forum sessions will also talk up basic cable's
record-breaking 1998 audience growth and its qualitative ratings clout, as well as the
role of interconnects and regional-news networks in the mix.
Senior research executives Betsy Frank of MTV Networks, Tim
Brooks of USA Networks Inc., Art Bulgrin of ESPN and Andy Morris of Lifetime Television
will discuss the research aspects, while Cuffaro and Ken Little, vice president of
NCC's interconnect division, will zero in on the others.
Boston, Cleveland and Seattle are among other markets where
significant spot buys originate, Houck said. This road show won't get to those cities
this year, but it may in 1999, perhaps replacing some cities that are on the 1998
itinerary -- if the sponsoring organizations decide to do this again.
"We would like to do this annually," Houck said,
"but it's costly."