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2Q Cable Sales Robust

Buyers say second-quarter cable ad sales are benefiting from the tight broadcast market. Sellers say ratings gains are helping, too.

"The high sellout rate on network TV is driving demand towards cable," says MindShare Managing Director Jason Maltby. "The cable scatter market is well under way," having started in February. "That's unusual. It usually moves much later, towards the beginning of the quarter. That's good for cable."

Ed Erhardt, president of ESPN-ABC sports sales, concurs but insists that rating gains also are a factor. "We have a strong scatter marketplace right now. But having additional rating points allows us to increase our unit pricing." ESPN reports that its total-day ratings are up 11% in 2003, with ESPN 2 numbers up 30% in February.

Joe Abruzzese, president of sales for Discovery Communications, notes that sell-out rates in cable programming and the scatter market generally are very strong. And that bodes well for the medium's upfront market later this year: "Cable could outpace network cost-per-thousand increases this year because cable starts out undervalued."

Local-cable sales for January and February are brisk, with the first quarter up 23% over the same period last year and second quarter projected to be up 25%.

"These are huge numbers," says Andrew Ward, EVP/director of sales, National Cable Communications. He credits cable ratings growth, expanded interconnected markets, improvement in electronic billing as factors.

Notes Maribeth Papuga, senior vice president, local broadcast, MediaVest, "Local cable may be benefiting from the tightening of network TV as well."