Cable Tries New Script to Work With Advertising Clients

With ratings down, talk turns to data and new products

Why This Matters

With the fast growth days gone, cable networks are digging in to generate ad revenue increases.

With ratings down across the landscape, cable networks are looking for new and different ways to work with their advertising clients as the upfront market approaches.

While network sales executives see a strong economy and dollars returning to TV from digital competitors, buyers note that cable might still be squeezed by stronger demand for the perceived bigger reach of broadcast and the targetability of digital.

At a time when viewers are cutting the cord and increasing their over-the-air viewing of broadcast TV and streaming of online content, noncore networks are getting left out of the skinnier bundles rolled out by new distributors.

Similarly, networks with smaller or declining ratings face an uphill climb with media buyers.

“Viewership is down. The long tail of cable will have a problem getting demand,” said one media buyer. “I think it’s going to be a challenging upfront for a number of our business partners.”

Of course, business is good for networks and groups with strong ratings stories for advertisers.

In many cases, the sales operations for major cable network groups have been consolidated into larger units that include broadcast networks. Earlier this year, the Disney-ABC Television Group combined the sales operations for the Disney channels and Freeform with ABC under Rita Ferro.

To some cable veterans, that means cable networks get less priority.

“I think we all just have to fight back, figure out what our brand propositions are, what our values are and in an interesting way, we’ve actually made more changes to set ourselves up for the future than we were doing when we were rolling along with ratings,” said a senior ad-sales executive.

For big media companies, cable is still an important part of the overall portfolio.

“Our goal in the 2017 upfront is to work with our clients to build their brands across all of our assets,” Mark Marshall, executive VP, entertainment sales at NBCUniversal, said. “As you’ve seen, more marketers are becoming disenchanted with digital-only media plans and our partners are asking for more and more premium video, so our entertainment vertical is uniquely positioned to help fulfill business objectives.”

That entertainment vertical includes USA Network, the top cable network in total viewing, and Syfy. Marshall said Syfy is benefiting from its ever-passionate fan base and a stronger investment in original programming.

“Our digital-video offering combines premium video content with the best in advanced targeting platforms,” Marshall added.

Brands Tuning Into NBCU’s Symphony

Earlier this month, NBCUniversal said it was earmarking $1 billion worth of its ad inventory for data-driven, targeted campaigns. It introduced a new product, Audience Symphony, that lets marketers reach their target consumers across NBCU’s entire portfolio of broadcast and cable networks, digital properties and partner companies.

NBCU said it planned to start signing clients up before the upfront gets underway.

Last week, Viacom, Turner and Fox Networks Group announced OpenAP, a new audience platform designed to provide agencies and clients with industry standards for defining target audiences and third-party measurement.

The three members of the OpenAP consortium are inviting other TV programmers to join and expect their initiative to have an impact on the upfront.

“It will play prominently in the upfront,” Viacom head of ad sales Sean Moran said. “All of us have been using advanced targeting in a lot of the deals that we do. They’ve been sought after by key agency holding companies.

“The fact that we’re making it easier for them is going to help folks go down this path in the upfront, so they’re going to be getting to more of their customers in a more effective way,” Moran said.

Added Turner president of ad sales Donna Speciale, “With this happening and simplifying [targeted audience buying], you’re going to see a lot more targeted audience buying for clients now in the television space.”