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Cable PACs Political Punch

NCC Media, which sells local ads for major cable operators, satellite companies and telcos, held its first-ever political upfront in Washington last month, complete with imported star power — singer Sara Bareilles, reality star Sonja Morgan (Real Housewives of New York) and actress Kim Coates (Sons of Anarchy).

Political spending on cable in 2014 will be $600 million to $800 million, compared with $500 million in 2012 and $450 million in the last midterm year, 2010, NCC political strategy director Tim Kay said. Andrew Capone, NCC’s senior vice president of marketing and business development, set up the event, did the presentation and even “picked out the shrimp” as NCC pitched political advertisers — political action committees, agencies, campaigns — on the value of Mad Men, The Walking Dead, high-value sports and the long tail of networks that can help target, or blanket, the market. Capone talked with Multichannel News Washington bureau chief John Eggerton about why cable will be part of the political ad mix for the midterms.

MCN: Can you give us the condensed version of what NCC does?

Andrew Capone: NCC Media is the ad sales, marketing and technology company that is owned by Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox and represents basically all the other cable, satellite and telco companies. We handle their national advertising sales into local markets. Advertisers who want to buy time in, say, 25 or 30 or 50 local markets will run them through us.

MCN: Just political time?

AC: No, that is one of our business lines. We have 17 offices and work around the country in the general market. So, we are an ad sales company that operates nationally in every ad category, working with every ad agency. It just so happens that the political side of the agency has grown exponentially.

We do the same thing for political advertisers as we do for General Motors or Budweiser.

MCN: Broadcasters arguing against the FCC’s limits on TV station joint-sales agreements said if the FCC was going to limit them, it should limit NCC as well?

AC: Yes, I think that was a bit of a brushfire.

MCN: Do you think they got any traction with that?

AC: No. I mean, I don’t know what sticks and what doesn’t. But [National Cable & Telecommunications Association president] Michael Powell gave a pretty solid response, and we are right behind that. It is not even remotely the same thing.

MCN: Why did you decide to hold a political upfront in D.C. for the first time?

AC: I used to run the upfront at NBC and when I got here. Spot television doesn’t really have an upfront, per se, because it is bought in a linear fashion instead of some frenzied negotiation like network TV.

But since our business has changed so much, and our product has changed so much — we have all this great data — we thought it would be a good idea to give them a whiff of the glitz and glamour and fun that the New York agencies and advertisers tend to see every year.

And in light of the fact that, starting very soon, the political agencies are going to be hard at work on the campaigns, and the PACs and other guys spending a ton of money will probably be locked in their offices working 24 hours a day. We kind of wanted to kick off the season a little bit and let them see what we have on tap for them.

MCN: OK, what was the pitch?

AC: The key is the combination of cable’s audiences and a suite of consultative data and search products that enables them to target voters not just by geography but also by qualitatives. Voter data just gives campaigns a lot better shot to swing persuadable voters, their base, whoever they are looking to reach, in very narrow geographies.

MCN: How narrow?

AC: Elections are won by counties, not by states. A few shifts in a few counties can swing an election, and we showed them how targeting voters in the programming they are most likely to watch based on their criteria just gives them a lot better chance to get their message achieved and acted upon.

MCN: How many political ads do you place?

AC: In 2004, we ran 2.3 million political ads. In 2012, we ran 9 million. That gives you a sense [of] how much our business has grown. Our revenue has increased exponentially. We had about seven people on our staff in Washington in 2004, when the political business really started to take root. We have over 40 now.

MCN: So what is your argument about the advantage of local cable vs. local broadcast?

AC: There are a few advantages, but you need both. We’re not saying that local broadcast TV isn’t important, because it is. But there are a couple of things that cable can do that broadcasting can’t.

First is, we have from 40 to 70 networks to choose from in any given market. So, we can go in in a far more consultative way and show, for the type of voter you are looking for, what they actually watch and give [the advertiser] a choice of 60 or 70 programs in any given half hour.

MCN: Anything else?

AC: On top of that, there’s audience. The majority of viewership now goes to cable, so we have an audience advantage. Then there is targeting. While a broadcast TV station covers the entire market, cable in, say, Chicago, has 37 different zones. We can target very intimately into neighborhoods based on the type of voter there and the type of messaging they want to get across.

MCN: For example?

AC: We showed an example in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, where just by isolating three cable zones you can reach only the viewers in the part of the county that are in congressional district 14 versus congressional district 16.

Then there is the intense amount of data and research. We’re starting to use set-top box data, which is far more robust. It is a more consultative way to approach the market. If you are a TV station in a given market and a political campaign is looking to buy, you have Wheel of Fortune and it covers the whole market. I have 60 to 70 programs at 7 p.m. and I get to target any part of the market you want.

MCN: How much of the political pie does local cable have?

AC: Depends on how you count it, but I think our shares are in the high teens, low 20s, based on the race and the season.

Midterm years, where all the elections are local or statewide, obviously benefit us. And we have been growing steadily in more than a linear fashion for the last decade. So, projecting out, our shares are well into the double digits.

Some of the money goes directly to our systems. If you are [in] an Illinois race and you are in Chicago, you are going to buy directly from Comcast in Chicago rather than going through us in Washington.