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Ad Sales Executives Speak Out

Cable ad-sales executives say not to expect many major changes in their business over the next six to 12 months. Here's what some of the top MSOs have in store to grow their business.

Cablevision Systems Corp.

Bob Sullivan, executive vice president of ad sales, is a political animal.

"We're extremely pro-political. We encourage the business," Sullivan said.

The MSO is counting on a strong off-year political season in the New York area to help get ad sales growth back into double-digits. With races for New York City mayor, New Jersey governor and Nassau County, N.Y., executive, Cablevision is eyeing a banner season.

"One of our goals is maximizing the political season," Sullivan said. "We go after this business like we do every other business. We don't wait for them to find us."

He said Cablevision is unusual because mining for political ads is hard work.

"It's fast and furious," he said, noting that it requires moving a tremendous amount of inventory at the last minute and puts an extreme amount of strain on the company.

"In the long run it's all worth it," he said. "There's a lot of money to be made and we establish tremendous goodwill and respect in the political community."

The company's other tactic for the rest of the year is to continue zoning its systems into small units of 50,000 to 100,000 subscribers. That will enable the company to sell to large car dealers and other retailers who may not be able to afford buying across an entire cable system.

Cablevision created its first zone in New Jersey last year and established one in Connecticut as well. This year the MSO will launch its first zones on its home base of Long Island.

Comcast Corp.

Interconnects have been around for years, but Comcast says the 14 it has established barely resemble the ones of yore.

The company is migrating all of its systems to insert on 32 networks while giving them the ability to offer advertisers the convenience of one insertion point and one invoice, said senior vice president of ad sales Roger Sverdlik, who said the reduction in paperwork makes Comcast work more like a local TV station.

"Comcast is willing to make the investment on insertion technology," he said.

Comcast added most of its interconnects in the second quarter of 2001 and has plans to evaluate other markets that have significant broadcast ad spending by the end of the year.

Comcast has many of these markets to itself. In others — like Washington, D.C., Fort Myers, Fla. and Tennessee — it is in partnership with other MSOs.

"We created these interconnects where we had market consolidations to be like a TV station," he said.

Like Cablevision, Comcast has established smaller zones within the group to help sell local cable to businesses that can't afford the higher rates of an interconnect.

Cox Communications Inc.

Cox has aggressive plans for inserting on digital networks, but for now, it's just trying to convince some recalcitrant advertisers to try cable TV.

The key to continued strong growth is diversifying the ad base, says vice president of ad sales Billy Farina.

"We want to attract other advertisers not in the top five or 10 advertisers," he said.

Cox has had some success expanding into the import auto business with BMW and Honda, but Farina is not satisfied. To that end, he outlined two tactics Cox is using to reach its goal:

Improving the MSO's ability to get top dollar for cable's top-rated programming.

"Those programs really get broadcast-type ratings," Farina said, pointing to shows like MTV's Music Video Awards and made-for cable movies for which operators should be able to charge more.

Exploit the value of all of the 40-plus networks on which Cox inserts. Since some of the larger networks have experienced ratings erosion nationally, Farina said Cox needs to take advantage of the smaller networks.

"Viewers are moving their viewership from one network to another. Fortunately for us, we still have access to the new networks they have moved to," he said.

Time Warner Cable

Newly named president of ad sales Bob Sherman has to answer for hiring Howard Stern when Sherman oversaw NBC Radio. His penance is executing a strategy to integrate Time Warner Cable's ad-sales operation with AOL.

Sherman will help oversee the creation of a corporate-wide effort termed "Partnership Marketing Team," which he said was more than just cross-platform sales. Those price-based efforts failed because they were merely camouflage for companies to get a larger share of media dollars, he said.

"This is something different than selling media," he said. "Our focus is on ascertaining the real needs and goals of the advertiser, then coming up with a program using our unique aggregation of media that we hope to persuade them would tend to solve their problem or meet their objectives."

For example, he said AOL Time Warner was plotting a program to inform people of weekend activities in their areas. The company would use its cable systems and magazines to lead people to AOL's online Digital City Web sites, and convince advertisers of all the opportunities therein.