Spot Cable Eyes 26% Uptick In '03: NCC

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National Cable Communications, which notched a 24 percent gain to $550 million in spot-cable ad sales last year, is looking at a 26 percent lift this year, according to executive vice president and director of sales Andrew Ward.

That projection is well above the 20 percent growth rate that NCC forecast late last month.

Ward said there are "high expectations" that the momentum will continue through 2003, even without political advertising — a segment that represented 6 percent of the rep firm's volume last year.

Scatter lift

NCC will finish the first quarter 33 percent ahead of the corresponding 2002 period, he estimated, or 4 percent over budget. "Second-quarter also is pacing well ahead — plus 29 percent."

These sanguine predictions are not surprising, due to healthy scatter sales, which are expected to fuel a robust 2003-04 upfront marketplace for both broadcast and cable networks.

Despite his bullish projections, Ward conceded there are clouds that could dampen the forecasts.

"Obviously, a few variables have us a little cautious" about second quarter and the remainder of this year: the war in Iraq, the lowest consumer confidence index and auto sales in 25 months, and January retail sales "significantly behind" that month in 2002.

The top three spot-cable categories in first quarter were automotive, media and telecommunications, traditionally the medium's major drivers. That trio, which stayed flat in that quarter, accounted for "just over half of our business," Ward estimated.

But entertainment/movies, restaurants, home improvement, home furnishings, appliances, electronics and health/fitness all scored big in the period. Those segments accounted for 32 percent of NCC's first-quarter business, up significantly from a combined 18 percent a year ago, according to Ward.

The common denominator is they are "home-centric" or "comfort"-oriented during a generally unsettled time, he said.

Categories on a downward trend include travel/transportation, hotels/resorts and financial/banking.

Aggressive staffing

Buoyed by its sales success, NCC is continuing its aggressive staffing and restructuring efforts. The leading spot-cable rep is in the midst of adding 78 new positions, which will expand NCC's staff by 18 percent.

One of those positions is director of cable news sales. Ward said that spot is being filled by Deborah Cuffaro, senior vice president of Rainbow Advertising Sales Co.'s Cable News Inc. and Regional News Rep. since 1996. (CNI morphed into RNR in 1998 before that group became part of Cablevision Systems Corp.'s in-house rep firm in fall 2001.)

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