New CAB Chief Gives His First Report Card

Cunningham touts cable, but notes some problems, too

In his first public presentation since being named president of the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau in June, Sean Cunningham had this to say last week: "I'm not anti-broadcast, I'm pro TV."


Cunningham then went on to report how cable has cleaned broadcast's clock in overall gains in viewing share over the past three years. While that's been a frequent CAB propaganda talking point in recent years, the Nielsen numbers are now there to back it up.

Still more good news: local cable ads may hit $4 billion by next year, if analysts projections are correct, which would be up from a projected $3.5 billion (Veronis Suhler's estimate) for 2003.

If Cunningham is to be believed, gone are the days when every press release coming out of the CAB makes broadcast out to look like the Evil Empire. Because viewers don't see it that way, they either like a TV show or they don't, whether it's on cable, broadcast or satellite, said Cunningham.

Today marks Cunningham's 87th day on the job as CAB president. And for him, the summer was one long fact-finding mission. On Oct. 23, he's scheduled to present to the CAB board his vision for taking cable sales to the next level.

Last Tuesday, he shared some "notes" of the meetings he's taken with advertising, agency and cable sales luminaries with those attending a conference sponsored by the Cabletelevision Advertising Association of New York.

At the top of the list of obstacles, or perceived barriers to cable sales, is the lack of industry wide standards for doing business. The industry needs to create a "consistent code," for conducting sales transactions. Or at least, said Cunningham, that's what ad buyers and planners have told him repeatedly in the last couple of months.

Many of those same executives told him that cable systems ought to sell "more like a TV station to get a bigger share of the budget." But Cunningham said he interpreted such remarks to mean cable needs to be easier to do business with. Buyers also complain there is a lack of ratings and research data to support local and regional cable buys, said Cunningham. Again, whether true or not, that is the perception.

But the good news, he said, is that with cable's share of viewing growing all the time and broadcast's share continually shrinking, "there's never been a better time to sell cable."

Cable had summer hits (Queer Eye, Nip & Tuck) and the resulting water cooler buzz, although Cunningham stressed the perception of many on the buy side is that broadcast is still where much of the buzz resides—something for cable's marketing machine to ponder, he suggested.