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Panel: Cable Needs Nielsen Aid

Chicago -- There’s a big opportunity for cable operators to integrate data about the viewing habits of their subscribers with ratings from Nielsen Media Research, executives at the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau’s Local Sales Management Conference said here Monday.

Charter Communications Inc. senior vice president Jim Heneghan said the industry would be able to bring to market within the next two years a new measurement system, but he emphasized that the industry would need a partner like Nielsen to add some legitimacy to the numbers.

“We own the data and we can aggregate the data, but no agency is going to allow me to come in and just present my data. We need a partner, and if it is going to be the currency, Nielsen does have a brand that is quite well-known in the agency community,” Heneghan added.

“Local People Meter” rollouts, the impact of the upfront-sales season and determining how much local-sales inventory operators should set aside for promotion were also key topics Monday.

Moderated by Disney and ESPN Networks president of affiliate sales and marketing Sean Bratches, the panel also included Cox Communications Inc. senior VP Billy Farina, Insight Communications Co. Inc. senior VP Kevin Dowell, Bright House Networks VP Anne Ragsdale and Time Warner Cable Media Sales president Larry Fischer.

While the rollout of Nielsen’s LPMs have seen some lower-rated shows gain viewers at the expense of the most popular programs on TV, Fischer noted that there are some problems with the system, which saw many viewers in Los Angeles mysteriously disappear from ratings reports after the rollout of LPMs.

“This is not a slam-dunk,” Fischer said. “Where did all the viewers go in Los Angeles? They disappeared.”

With operators now inserting local ads on 50 or more networks, selling inventory on lower-rated channels remains a challenge, panelists said. Farina said Cox is selling primarily the top 4-10 networks, noting that on some other networks, “There are some deficiencies on the ratings side.”

In order for operators to make money on local ad sales, it’s important to charge a premium for the 10-15 most popular networks and to sell media buyers packages that include both the top networks and the bottom 23-40 networks (which don’t sell as well), Heneghan said.

But Dowell said one of cable’s strengths is the ability to help advertisers reach a targeted audience, even on a network that doesn’t draw many viewers. “I don’t think we should apologize for granularity and a smaller number. I think that’s one of our strengths,” he added.

Cable operators typically set aside 25%-30% of their local inventory to promote their own products. That’s a model panelists said should change, adding that local-sales teams should work with system marketers the same way they help media buyers to analyze the best advertising mix.

Farina suggested that operators use a reach-frequency analysis to determine how many local spots to run. “Forget setting aside a set percentage,” he added.