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Cable Sales Are on a Roll

Top-tier cable networks are logging double-digit increases in first-quarter scatter, with second quarter pacing equally robust.

USA Network is seeing 25% increases in upfront prices; sister net Sci Fi Channel, 45% hikes. Says Jeff Lucas, president, ad sales, Universal Television Group, "We're done and moving on. For networks like Turner, MTV, E!, TLC, Comedy, FX, Hallmark, Lifetime, there is no problem."

Greg D'Alba, COO, ad sales, CNN, agrees. "The last two weeks have been our strongest two weeks in five years. We've seen a terrific amount of volume. The election, in particular, is a big driver for us. We're seeing more money than in 2000." He reports strong sales for the fourth quarter from Samsung, AT&T and Chrysler. The jump in automotive continues, he adds, but the gains are on the domestic side, not in foreign, which is down.

As for spot cable, pacing is up 20% over first quarter '03, with political ads driving sales. Says Chuck Cowdrey, VP, politics, NCC, "Local cable is looking to more than triple political dollars in 2004, going from 3%-4% [of all TV dollars] in 2000 to 12%-15% in 2004. So far, we're on pace. John Kerry has been a big user of cable from the beginning."

Recently, the major MSOs committed themselves to 100% electronic invoicing in all DMAs by June 28. Does this give local cable an edge?

"It's not a deal maker," says Kathy Crawford, president, local broadcast, MindShare, "but it's very valuable. It puts cable on an even level with broadcast. In fact, of the 1,200 stations we buy, only 800 have EDI. So the ball is now in broadcast's court."