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Operators Predict Ad-Sales Will Rebound

Despite a sluggish third quarter, sales executives at various MSOs and interconnects are predicting a strong end to 2000.

Most executives were unwilling to predict the sales outlook for 2001, but the few who did expected the usual post-Olympics and post-election dip in ad spending at both the national and local levels.

"Fourth-quarter looks strong-but not without effort," said Vicki Lins, vice president of marketing and communications at Adlink, the Los Angeles interconnect.

Adlink is already preparing its upfront presentations to "lock down 2001 money," she said. Over the first nine months of 2000, its business grew by 38 percent, versus just 15 percent in the third quarter, she noted.

Although the third quarter exceeded budget for AdNex Detroit, general manager Wayne Hindmarsh said its pace wasn't as strong as the second quarter. This was due in part to automotive cutbacks.

For the nine-month span, he said, the Motown interconnect ran substantially ahead of a year ago and significantly beyond budget.

AdNex finished the third quarter with "significant [Summer Olympics] money on the books," Hindmarsh said, without giving specifics. As for the final quarter, Hindmarsh said, the operation would meet or exceed its budget, though he saw "continuing automotive hesitation and some [spending] pullbacks."

In New York, Time Warner CityCable president Larry Fischer said the fourth quarter looks solid. October looks like the strongest month of the year, at least as of mid-month, he said.

That system's third-quarter revenue rose by just 20 percent, compared to "just a hair under 40 percent" for the nine-month stretch, he said.

At Comcast Corp., senior vice president of national ad sales Roger Sverdlik forecast a healthy finish for the year. The first seven months of 2000 had been solid, he said, but ad sales stalled in August and September.

That stall occurred in many markets, partly because NBC's Olympics coverage drained money from the marketplace, executives said. Many clients held back their spending until after the Sydney games.

Among the categories in which two or more executives saw positive trends were health care, automotive, retail, financial services and telecommunications. TWCC's Fischer made note of the health care, entertainment, automotive, financial and telecommunications sectors-particularly wireless telecommunications.

Looking ahead, New York Interconect senior vice president Eglon Simons said he was budgeting cautiously for his interconnect's final quarter-currently 33 percent ahead of a year ago, versus 40 percent for the first nine months-since the dot-com category may not match last year's levels.

On the other hand, Cable One Inc. vice president of ad sales Ron Pancratz said: "We always budget aggressively [for the fourth quarter] since that's traditionally the best quarter of the year. I think we're on target to make up for the third-quarter shortfall."

Jim Klunder, vice president and general manager of Comcast MarketLink Philadelphia, said his interconnect's fourth-quarter finish looks pretty good-better than it seemed about four weeks ago.

"We made October [budget], we're well on the way for November," he said, but December remains uncertain.

Ad-sales execs had differing opinions on the effect of political ads.

Klunder said "political has been good" in recent weeks, "the most active we've seen here in a long time." Many Senate and Congressional campaigns in New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania have started to spend on cable, he reported.

But Klunder said the presidential campaigns have spent "not a stitch of money" in his DMA, despite Pennsylvania's swing-state status.

Political-ad spending should prove strong for Missouri systems, Pancratz said, since that's also shaping up as a battleground state.

But the well was drier in Detroit, where Hindmarsh said all his interconnect had to show for its effort were some issues-advertising orders.

In Los Angeles, "it's been a very disappointing political year," said Lins. Neither Democratic candidate Al Gore nor Republican nominee George W. Bush have bought cable in California.

Simons and Klunder were among the few to venture guesses for 2001. The former is hoping that next year, the so-called "hammock effect"-a reference to the historical dip in spending in years that follow the Olympics and the presidential election-will be offset by the addition of a batch of new networks to his interconnect's insertable roster.

Klunder expressed concerns not only about the anticipated ad spending lull but also a seemingly weakening economy.

Southern Florida Cable advertising general manager Charlie Slaight said only that he is "cautiously optimistic" about 2001.

Officials at two major MSOs, AT&T Broadband and Cox Communications Inc., declined to discuss their third-quarter and nine-month performance until their companies had released their quarterly results to the financial community later this month.