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Ads Moving to Mobile: Where Does Cable Fit?

You know how much I disdain dueling data: those commissioned research reports that come up with whatever finding fits the financial or political objectives of the study’s sponsors.

Typically, competing interests come to completely opposite conclusions from their “independent” research. Contrarily, there are the mash-up gems that emerge from studies conducted for completely unrelated purposes.

By putting together the findings, you can come up with some valuable perceptions of where we’re heading - and, inevitably, generate a reason for even more studies.

Two reports that caught my eye this week: one about digital advertising migration from BIA/Kelsey and another from Yahoo! and Ipsos about the effectiveness of mobile ads.

The BIA/Kelsey study concludes that within four years, 70% of the ad spend by small and medium-sized businesses (which includes lots of local advertisers) will go to mobile, online and social platforms. More significantly, most of those digital dollars will come from current budgets for traditional media, including cable as well as broadcast, print and out-of-home advertising.

No matter how inflated this expectation for shifting funds from old to new media, the message is clear. Cable ad sales managers should start preparing for new competitors for local ad budgets. That means begin figuring out how to bring more of those online and social media ad buys into the broadband services that cable can deliver.

The Yahoo/Ipsos study poses a bigger challenge with its focus on “recall” and “engagement” of mobile ads, including location-based messages. The study finds that ads on smartphones generate extraordinary levels of awareness and engagement. For example, when a mobile user is in the midst of shopping, mobile ad recall is 65%. More than a third of smartphone users say they’d likely buy the product being advertised. The study shows similarly high levels of ad recall for information and entertainment content delivered via iPhone, Android and Blackberry mobile handsets.

That makes mobile a tougher ad market for cable to crack, since viewers are watching a home-tethered screen. Perhaps the proposed collaborations with mobile/wireless providers will give cable operators and programmers a better hook into the growing mobile commerce opportunity.

Meanwhile, another recent piece of Yahoo research offers a glimmer of hope. It indicates that one-third of “mobile” phone time is actually spent at home, often while watching TV. As Comcast, Time Warner Cable and other MSOs are finding - and trying to exploit - split-screen attention (simultaneous viewing of the TV set and the tablet or other wireless handset) may be the best way for cable operators to become part of the inevitable mobile juggernaut.

We’ll look into that.

Gary Arlen is president of Arlen Communications LLC in Bethesda, MD, and a long-time interactive TV enthusiast. Reach him at