Uva: A La Carte Will Hurt Nets

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Cable networks will lose major ad dollars if à la carte packaging starts to cut into their national distribution, a major ad agency official warned last week at the National Show here.

"At the national level, cable networks will be hurt dramatically," Joe Uva, president and CEO of OMD Worldwide, said during a panel here. "You'll see money going out of the cable networks and you'll see money going out of the television medium."

Uva, a veteran of Turner Broadcasting System Inc., made his remarks during a panel session last Tuesday.

Show of hands

He came out of the box swinging. When he asked how many cable operators were in the audience, only a handful of people raised their hands.

Uva used that as evidence of what he called his agency's concern that cable operators — with the exception of Comcast Corp. — are not serious about local advertising.

"We're really not sure how important local cable advertising is to cable operators, and question their absolute commitment and investment," Uva said.

The prospect of MSOs widely deploying set-tops with digital video recording capabilities was "a scary proposition for advertisers," he added.

Later, a Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau spokesman was asked to respond to Uva's criticism. "It would have been more appropriate to address that at a show where you had a large turnout of system ad-sales people and advertisers, which would have been the CAB show, not the NCTA, with all due respect to Joe, who is a good friend of ours," the spokesman said.

The CAB held its Cable Sales Management Conference in Chicago in May.

Also during the panel, Comcast Cable Communications Inc. president of ad sales Charlie Thurston outlined his MSO's plans to create interconnects and consolidate the markets where Comcast has a major presence.

Comcast is in 22 of the top 25 DMAs, and Thurston said 13 of those markets have already been interconnected. Plans call for that number to rise to 20 shortly.

Asked about speculation that Comcast would make an upfront presentation next year, Thurston said, "We'll see." Comcast is pulling its markets together and has a national footprint, he noted.

Lins: work remains

In an earlier interview, vice president of marketing and communications Vicki Lins said Comcast had a lot of work to do in terms of educating the advertising community about its various vehicles and resources.

To that end, she said, Comcast is continuing to consolidate markets nationwide and hopes to have 50 linked by year's end, up from the current total of 37.

Comcast is also striving toward a consistent network lineup of ad-insertable networks, with a short-term goal of 40 in the top markets.

"We're having hundreds of meetings with the top 50 networks. We want to make cable as easy to buy as broadcast. We are determined to deliver the goods quickly and efficiently."

At the same time, Lins said Comcast is working to forge a new brand position with the network and Madison Avenue communities, and could have a new name for the group by year-end.

"Our goal is to raise the bar on the opportunities available to us in going after the $27 billion local spot broadcast market," she said.

Comcast, which currently collects some $1 billion in ad revenue, wants to double that take within five years.

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