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Addressing Their Political Need, DirecTV, Dish Join (Ad) Forces

You know that old saw that politics makes strange bedfellows? Well, politics have brought satellite-TV rivals DirecTV and Dish Network’s ad-sales forces together — to pitch election campaigns on ads reaching 20 million homes, targeted to individual households.

It seems surprising the two direct- broadcast satellite firms hadn’t banded together before now: Cable companies in the I+ initiative already work with Dish and DirecTV, and with their telco rivals, FiOS TV and AT&T U-verse, in selling local-market ads during the 2 minutes per hour multichannel providers keep for themselves.

But Warren Schlichting, senior vice president of Dish media sales, said the two true national TV platforms are teaming up formally for the first time, after “some handshake attempts in the past.”

The obvious draw is money. “You’d have to live under a rock not to see the billions of dollars that are being spent on broadcast in the political year, and ’14 is an off year, not even a presidential year,” Schlichting, a former Comcast advanced-advertising executive, told The Wire. Kantar Media has predicted about $3 billion will be spent on TV ads in these mid-term elections, with up to $800 million of that going to local spot cable.

Also, the political category lends itself to addressable targeting. The Obama re-election campaign’s well-chronicled use of cable-network ad buys to reach swing voters in key states opened all political operatives’ eyes to “the religion of big data,” Schlichting said.

Both Dish and DirecTV said they did some addressable-ad sales in the 2012 campaign, which was a time when both were still road-testing their addressable technology. “It’s as close to rocket science as we are going to get in ad sales,” Keith Kazerman, senior VP of ad sales at DirecTV, said of the effort by the company’s engineering and IT departments and key vendor, Invidi, to create the platform.

The satellite players say they’re offering an efficient alternative to broadcast buys because, this way, households can be targeted along state or multistate lines where voters live, rather than by Nielsen DMA (a la I+) or however far a broadcast signal reaches.

Satellite-system ads would complement what cable systems and their affiliate, NCC Media, sell on that DMA level, reaching beyond cities into the rural markets where satellite dishes rule.

The satellite players actually hope more cable companies follow the lead of Cablevision Systems and get into addressable ad sales, to help build the scale that advertisers crave.

Comcast and NBCUniversal last week announced a plan to sell household-addressable ads on NBCU video-on-demand programs to 20 million Comcast homes. The “NBCU+ Powered by Comcast” initiative also seeks better targeting of linear ads on NBCU networks, which could be of use to campaigns.

But the addressable-VOD ad component won’t include political ads, Andrew Ward, group VP at Comcast Media 360, told The Wire. “A lot of the dollars are state and local races, so it doesn’t fit neatly into the NBCU national portfolio,” he said.

Comcast, though, will certainly be offering data enhancements to political campaigns hungry for better targeting, Ward said.

All of this collaboration and cooperation on behalf of addressable advertising can’t come soon enough for Tim Hanlon, the former longtime media buyer who’s now a strategic consultant as CEO of The Vertere Group in Chicago.

He said brand marketers have been keen on directing ads to, say, young middle-income car-owning households, household by household, since 2006. But when you explained how challenging it would be to cobble together the different buys on different platforms, “interest dissipated,” he said.

What’s needed now is more than just multichannel providers working together, Hanlon said, because they only control 2 minutes per hour. Programmers, which hold the rest of the ad time, need to get on board, as well. “Instead of an avail-split mentality, maybe more a migration towards a revenue-sharing mentality,” Hanlon suggested. “Where an ESPN or an A&E could sell a national ad that is addressably targetable through the pipe of a network operator. And not just be a local ad or a national ad, but simply just an ad.”

He said that should become a new element in carriage agreements going forward, for mutual benefit.

British Embassy Life Clearly Would Make A Jolly Good Show

U.K. Ambassador Sir Peter Westmacott hosted a reception on Jan. 26 at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., for a delegation of U.K. independent TV producers in town for the RealScreen Summit reality-TV conference.

Between the foie gras meringues and the fish-andchips appetizers served in newspaper-wrapped cups, the ambassador noted to a room full of media types that while the U.S. continued to outpace the British reality market, “we’re catching up.” The Wire could actually have used some “catchup” for those chips, but we digress.

The room was full of a mix of U.K. producers — including powerhouse Michael Davies of the appropriately named Embassy Row — and U.S. outlets including CNN, Lifetime, Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel and many others.

But with all that reality talent in the room, we wondered if anybody there was pitching a reality show about embassies. They are their own little microcosms with the potential for drama — sometimes too much drama.

More than halfway through the two-hour reception, The Wire asked the ambassador whether he had been buttonholed by a producer with such a show in mind. “No,” he said. “I’ve escaped so far.”

The ambassador may not be out of the woods yet. One attendee said he was even now working on getting the U.S. distribution rights to an embassy-based reality show in the works. Jolly good!

— John Eggerton

Gimme Shelter: A Super Time For ASPCA Series

Not every puppy can star in Super Bowl counterprogramming stunts, and not every cat can become an Internet video star — though, lord knows, that hasn’t stopped most from trying.

But the ASPCA is trying to use TV to draw attention to animals in shelters that don’t have a Westminster Kennel Club to promote them.

“Hopefully, every one of our featured fur angels, whether on the show or in the shelters I will be visiting across the country, will find a loving, permanent home,” said animal advocate Jill Rappaport. The correspondent on NBC’s Today is teaming with the ASPCA to develop the Best in Shelter series and primetime special showcasing the “special appeal” of shelter pets.

The series will be a combination dog show and reality contest. Rappaport will visit shelters across the country in a year-long search for contestants for a Best in Shelter dog-show special — planned for Valentine’s Day 2015 — that will crown a winner and provide homes for the contestants.

So, has the ASPCA got Animal Planet or Hallmark Channel locked up yet?

“We’re just in development now,” Elizabeth Estroff , senior vice president of communications for the ASPCA, told the Wire (not to be confused with the wire-haired terrier). But she added that Rappaport is in discussions with both cable and broadcast companies and “has early interest from both.”

— John Eggerton