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Q&A: Viamedia TV's Larry Fischer

Larry Fischer, vice president and general manager of Viamedia TV in New York and New Jersey, is the former president of Time Warner Cable Media Sales, a position he held from May 2002 until 2006. He was responsible for all local advertising sales operations at Time Warner's 32 divisions, as well as national advertising spot sales. Fischer began his career in 1971 with Grey Advertising as a media buyer, negotiating and purchasing radio and television time for Ford Motor Company, ITT and R.H. Macy & Co. In July 1972, he began his broadcast radio advertising sales career as an account executive at WOR-FM/WXLO-FM, and after gaining valuable retail and agency experience, he went on to work at WPAT AM/FM, WPLJ-FM, WHN-AM and WNBC-AM where he served as local sales manager. In 1981, Fischer became vice president of national sales for Madison Square Garden Network. Fischer served as a vice chairman IRTS Foundation, was a board member of the Cable Television Advertising Bureau, served as a board member of National Cable Communications and was chairman of the Board of Adlink, the Los Angeles Interconnect. Fischer, who has been with Viamedia TV for two months now, spoke with Local Ad Sales contributor K.C. Neel about his newest gig and the state of the advertising universe. An edited transcript follows:

Q: What have you been doing between the time you left Time Warner Cable and joined Viamedia?
I have done a number of things. When I left TWC, I did some work with Spot Runner. I had been introduced to the guys there and liked their model. I liked the idea of democratization of advertising for the little guys. They believed the power of TV could benefit everyone, not just the big advertisers.
I eventually started SweetSpot.TV, a consulting firm at the end of 2007 to help Spot Runner sell their ideas. I also worked with MTV when they merged their affiliate ad sales and affiliate marketing departments. I also did some work with Floyd Hall Entertainment. They own hockey and baseball leagues and venues.

Q: How did you hook up with Viamedia?
I didn't know the folks at Viamedia well. I met with Jeff Cutter [Viamedia president and CEO] to talk about a project I was working on at the time. We spent an hour-and-a-half talking about the business and he told me he had just hired Joe Noonan as COO. I was impressed. Joe had been one of my lieutenants at Time Warner Cable and he is a very capable and smart guy.
Joe eventually came to me and told me Viamedia was looking for a vice president and GM for the New York area and asked me to join the company. Verizon was beginning to really gain some traction in the New York market and I really liked what I was seeing. I have been with Viamedia now for two months. Our main office is in New York City and we have satellite offices on Long Island and in New Jersey. We have 15 salespeople plus support staff.

Q: Who do you represent at this point?
We represent Verizon and RCN in the greater New York area and are approaching 500,000 subscribers in total. We sell spots three ways: RCN [with 70,000 subscribers] alone, New York state subscribers and New Jersey subscribers.

Q: Do you zone?
Plans are being drawn now to reorganize our sales operations to create a number of selling zones. We aren't sure how many we will end up with but we know we need more than we have currently. We expect to offer micro-zone options this year. Advertisers want that. Our ability to geographically target our customers has always been and will continue to be cable's biggest advantage over the competition. We have had several clients tell us to come back when we can, for instance, separate Nassau County from Suffolk County on Long Island. We'll be at a disadvantage until we can do that.

Q: Do you sell spots differently for the alternative multichannel provider than you did as the incumbent cable provider?
We are essentially a ‘me-too' service. We can help clients who are already advertising on cable by plugging the increasingly big hole being created by Verizon's rapid growth in the market. Of course, Viamedia also sells spots for other multichannel providers and they are growing as well. But Verizon has made a lot of traction in a short amount of time. In the New York market alone, they are adding between 20,000-30,000 new customers a month and they are only just now entering Manhattan. It's an easy sell for those clients who already have Verizon or RCN. But it's becoming much easier as those companies grow.

Q: How is the job different from when you were with Time Warner Cable?
Well, I am interfacing with the client much more regularly. I did a lot of that when I was with Time Warner Cable. I have always enjoyed helping local clients "ring the cash register," so to speak. I have always had a great affinity for retailers. It feels great to be going on sales calls. I feel alive again. It's fun and it's big.

Q: Most of the advertising universe will experience a flat or down year in 2009. What do you see for Viamedia this year?
We'll see our business grow this year in the New York market. The question is, will it be double-digit or triple-digit growth? Of course, we are starting at a small number, but we have a compelling story to tell and our clients like what they are hearing and seeing. I'd like to think that's why Viamedia hired me. I intend to succeed here and we are already.

Q: What is the biggest obstacle going forward for cable, in general, and Viamedia, in particular?
Clearly, the auto and financial sectors are down significantly and that is affecting everyone. We aren't as negatively affected as other sectors and companies because we didn't have as much of that advertising and we didn't anticipate as much revenue from it either. It's one of the reasons why zoning will be so important going forward. Clients want to know their ad dollars are being spent smartly. And it's a way to entice clients who have stayed away from cable to buy in.

Q: Do you offer multiplatform packages? Are you selling VOD and online spots?
Right now we have limited opportunities to sell advanced advertising services. It's a work in progress at this point but we hope to offer clients more opportunities as time goes on. AOL has a contract with Verizon to sell mobile and spots but that doesn't mean we can't all work together to create multiplatform opportunities for clients. It makes sense and we need to pay attention to it.