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Cable Cheerleader Preps for Political Rally

In recent years, cable operators, networks and advertising agencies have made great strides in simplifying the purchase of an ad across several cable systems. Interconnects, which combine local cable systems and distribute a commercial signal simultaneously, are at the heart of the solution. With a single purchase and invoice, an advertiser can reach a broad region.

Now, local cable is playing its biggest role ever in political ad spending at a time when the medium is increasing its share of the ad market overall. Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau chief Sean Cunningham spoke to B&C's Anne Becker about cable's efforts to capitalize on the election season and beyond.

What have you done to educate politicians about cable advertising?

The industry as a whole has done a tremendous amount to galvanize a real growing knowledge base among the people who are key decision-makers in political camps. The early upside of that is virtually every presidential candidate on both sides of the aisle, albeit early, is advertising on cable. Virtually no one is going broadcast alone—that's an old-school media thing. The belief is there could be in all media over $2 billion spent in 2008. [As much as 10% goes to cable.] A calendar year from now, we'll have much better idea.

What's so enticing to political advertisers about cable?

It really is about the power of geo/demo targeting. The audience has migrated en masse to cable. Within that, there is the discrete precise targeting that can be done by gender, by party affiliation, by submarket inside the DMA. Only spot cable can get you something as precise as Republican men of a certain age in a certain zone, Democratic women of a different age in a different zone. There's the ability to package brands around issues and subjects voters are interested in. There's also the power of three platforms: linear 30-second advertising, video on demand—say, a four- to five-minute piece on a specific issue—and online.

And what's attractive to them about VOD?

It's really about brands in a certain geography where you have a strong knowledge of what issues are important to those folks. You're already starting with a high composition of the kind of voters and markets you want to talk to. You start by throwing a message in linear television that's already a high-interest message.

Then, if you give people a prompt that they have the ability to learn more about a candidate's stance or detailed information on a particular issue, it stands to reason that you're probably going to have a pretty good take rate of people willing to spend four to six minutes to really hear the details. You then have the ability to help them become part of the swing vote.

What exactly is cable's share of the advertising market?

The spot/zone business—local cable advertising—will come in roughly at $6.3 billion for calendar year advertising in 2007, which is flat versus 2006, and which is an accomplishment given that broadcast is down between 5% and 7%. Nationally, we are looking at $17.1 billion, up about 3.5% from 2006. In terms of cable share of the $63 billion U.S. television market, we've got about 37%—$23.4 billion. That's up from 32% in 2003.

So then, cable TV advertising isn't declining in the face of competition from new Web outlets?

Pundits talk about the inevitable shift of viewing from television to the Internet, and none of it has happened. We're at an all-time high of television viewing. The average person in this country spends 32 hours a week watching television, according to Nielsen.

We've looked at the early embracers of Internet video—user-generated content and retransmitted television—and they're among the heaviest users of television of anybody in the country.

What's happened is less about Darwinism and more that people are just relentless editors of media. Nothing drives traffic to those sites like a well-targeted 30-second, linear TV spot. Internet advertising can be very effective in complement, not as a substitute for TV.