Universal McCann executive VP/COO Jean Pool, who presided over the American Association of Advertising Agencies convention in Orlando, Fla., incited some lively discussion among the TV execs attending the conference when she made a resounding cry for à la carte in her opening remarks at the show Thursday morning.
Speaking specifically to the cable industry, she pleaded, "Please let the consumer choose which channels they want to purchase. I bet you’ll find a lot of those niche channels disappear and what you have left is higher-rated programming that commands higher dollar rates. Not a bad trade."
Shortly after that in her speech, however, Pool urged media buyers to spread out their ad buys to lesser-watched programs – many of which are on those very niche channels.
"The big successes are chock full of non-program time," she complained.
Later, during "How to be a Media Mogul: 2006," the one panel of the day that featured members of the TV industry, Comcast President Steve Burke challenged Pool’s à la carte proposition on behalf of viewers, saying, "There’s a side of à la carte that’s bad for anyone who wants to see great cable programming get funded."
ABC Ad Sales/Marketing President Mike Shaw took that argument one step further, pointing out that television viewing was up over the past year because viewers had so much quality programming to choose from.
"Through all this choice, we’ve given television viewers – your consumers – what they want," he told the room full of ad executives. "Television has grown despite all the competition because we’ve give our viewers choice."
One reason ad executives favor à la carte is that fewer networks result in higher ratings for each network, which means buyers can promise advertisers higher delivery for each spot. But research has shown viewers might end up paying more on an à la carte system, so advertisers looking at it from that perspective is simplistic, according to Debbie Reichig, senior VP, sales strategy, for Court TV.
Court TV has been on the cutting edge of working with advertisers to ensure high levels of consumer engagement with their programming. Last year, the network inked deals with Starcom, Mediaedge:cia, Carat and Magna Global that based payment on engagement, rather than total delivery.
"Anybody in this industry who advocates for à la carte has no clue about the industry because it would kill this industry and it would not be in anybody’s interest," said Reichig, who called Pool’s comments "old-fasioned." "I am shocked [Pool] said that," she said.