Spot Cable Angling For More Ad Dollars

As the broadcast and cable networks continued to revel in their record upfront hauls, National Cable Communications last week wrapped up a nine-city upfront tour designed to alert media buyers to the changing face of spot cable. The cable rep firm’s presentations to several hundred buyers hinged on the growing strategic advantage of buying more spot cable versus more broadcast.

NCC execs said that advantage is becoming more distinct as the cable industry’s network of ad sales interconnects grows, the electronic buying process becomes more detailed and original cable programming continues to attract targeted ratings.

“We see our role as reshaping spot cable advertising,” said Tom Olson, CEO of NCC, which represents 66 million cable homes—about 98 percent of insertable cable homes—via more than 2,500 cable systems in 207 of the 210 TV markets. The company is owned jointly by Comcast Communications, Cox Communications and Time Warner Cable.

Despite its advances in pitching itself to the media buying community over the past 10 years, spot cable still only gets about 6 percent of the overall dollars that spot TV gets. “[Spot cable] is certainly a very viable part of our business,” said Marcy Sackett, svp/manager of local broadcast for Mediacom. “But they need to supply us with even more specific information in order to command more of our dollars.”

That’s NCC’s intent. The company says cable interconnects have grown to serve 75 markets in 2003, compared with only 10 in 2000, and Olson said the major cable operators are committed to further expansion. On the original programming front, Bill Clifford, NCC regional vp for the Northeast, said basic cable spent $9.2 billion on original programming in 2002, an investment that has helped the medium reach all the key geographic and demographic viewer segments. “We can compete for every demo and every age group,” said Clifford.

Finally, the advancement of sales software has supercharged NCC’s message, and buyers in attendance last week applauded that effort. “They’ve really come a long way with their invoices, and they really know the importance of being electronic,” said Kelly Cadotte, vp and local broadcast associate at PHD. “The easier they make it for a buyer, the more chance they have to get their point across and put on a buy if it’s efficient and makes sense.”

According to Olson, spot cable has grown from basically aping the broadcast rep firm model in the mid-1990s to becoming a sales entity driven by Web-based sales tools. Those advances, said Nick Garramone, NCC’s vp of e-business, not only help overcome back-office problems and costs associated with buying across so many basic cable networks (turnaround time on spot cable invoices have dropped sharply thanks to NCC online processing), they can also show the overall efficiency of adding cable to a media plan.

“You’re now able to compare cable to broadcast online,” said Garramone, who added that NCC, which has the media industry’s first platform on which agencies can transact their spot business entirely online, will continue to introduce new sales products.

Some buyers, however, say the rep firm still needs to provide more data. “They can’t really quantify what it is you’re getting” like the Nielsen rating book can for broadcast, said one buyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.