Bob Alter, the founder of the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau, died in March at the age of 77. His many honors include being inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame in 2003. Here are just a few of the tributes to Bob that we received for this issue. * * * Greg Liptak, former chairman of the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau and founder of the Cable and Telecommunications Association for Marketing In the early days, in the late 70’s and early 80’s, several of us on the Board of CTAM recognized the need to establish a cable initiative in advertising. Many of the cable networks were just starting to develop and we wanted to have a minute or two per hour for local sale on each service. Local newspapers, broadcast television and radio said that cable viewing was minimal and worthless to local advertisers. Early on, we agreed that it would be best to have a totally separate organization to pursue this very specific activity. CTAM agreed to provide the initial seed money to get the CAB started… Bob came aboard and the rest—as they say—is history. He organized a staff of professionals, including researchers (to prove in the early days that people actually did watch cable programs), and sales people who could sell the cable story to both advertisers and agencies. Bob launched the Local Advertising Seminar, because we had to sell the concept of advertising to our cable brethren. There were some cable folks at that time who did not believe that cable should become involved in advertising! He also organized "Cable Days" to sell cable’s stories to advertisers and agencies at major media centers across the nation. It was my honor to serve on the Board for many years and as Chairman for three years. I got to know Bob and his wonderful wife, Lucile, well. Bob was the consummate salesman. He would sell cable’s story to anyone and everyone—at any time of day or night. He was "one of a kind." Cable owes Bob its great thanks. He will be missed. * * * Saralee Rosenberg, former VP of marketing, CAB In those early days we were making it up as we went along. Not only was there a new technology to understand ("Wait—the coaxial cable goes where?!"), we were in unchartered advertising waters. A lesser man than Bob might have been swallowed whole by the sharks circling on the broadcast side, but he knew from the start he had to position cable as the cutting edge ad medium that would break the rules. It would never again be business as usual for media buyers, and he was right. With respect to CAB as an organization, no question Bob wanted to model it after RAB insofar as member services, research, advertising support to the networks and MSOs and to basically serve as the nerve center for a fledgling industry. But there was an added element: the technology was as important to the ad sell as the advertising time itself. Bob understood from day one the enormous potential of what was then an unproven medium, and under his stewardship, the industry grew exponentially because he taught those in his midst how to position and promote cable so that the promises became a reality. He never doubted he could do that, and he never doubted for a minute that the cable industry would deliver. We laughed a lot in those early days. Right before my first media interview, I asked his advice about how to handle a question if I didn’t know the answer. He said, "Do what I do. Just keep talking. Eventually you’ll say something they want to hear." One funny story. A few months after CAB opened, Michael Fuchs, then head of HBO, invited Bob to lunch to say welcome to the industry. But before you could say chef’s salad, rumors started flying that because the two men were seen talking, that HBO was contemplating getting into the ad business. It was the last time they lunched. * * * Bruce Hoban, former VP of research, CAB Bob was a reporter at heart. Every Monday he would look for the story of the week. He understood how to build cable’s overall value: story by story, week by week. He was also very honest, and with this he built trust both for himself and the CAB. It was a tough sell when there was less than 25% cable household penetration, the average household received only 14 channels, HBO was the main reason people subscribed to cable and 100+ new and unknown channels were paying the cable systems for a channel. Did I mention A.C. Nielsen reported only "cable" viewing in one bucket and that included HBO? Bob worked closely and intensely with his staff everyday. He listened, he prodded, he pushed, he praised. In the first year, eleven of us produced monthly newsletters, agency presentations, advertiser presentations, press releases, the first major cable advertising convention at the Waldorf with 2,000+ attendees, the Cable Audience Methodology Study (CAMS) and most importantly, hundreds of industry relationships. He had a vision, he had the drive and he had a team that was right behind him. With his vision, cable advertising became the buzz much as Internet advertising is today. As part of the pioneers who were there and saw it all unfolding, I can attest it was Bob who kickstarted an industry. I am confident Bob is somewhere now building the next vision and writing this week’s story. * * * Jim Boyle, former head of member services, CAB I joined CAB in December of 1981, when the staff was only nine to 10 people. Bob had two critical constituencies: the cable industry and the advertising community. He also had major missionary work with both sets of doubting Thomases. Cable back then garnered less than 1% of its revenue from advertising. Almost all revenue came from the subscriber. Why bother with fancy schmancy advertising sales and distant Madison Avenue? In the early 1980s, the three major advertising operations were the Bay Area Interconnect; the Tulsa cable system; and the Naples, Florida cable system. The NYC Interconnect started a year later. The ad community was barely interested in the new national cable networks—WTBS went up on the satellite in 1976 to be national and many had just started such as CNN and MTV—and even less curious about local cable advertising. Bob had to persuade everyone on both sides of the fence why cable advertising made sense and why it should survive, if not eventually thrive in an increasingly targeted marketing world. Bob had a creative mind in positioning and packaging cable. Sometimes it seemed he had come from an ad agency’s creative department rather than another media sector. The "Cable Universe". "E=mc2: Effectiveness + more cable." "Cable’s 50/ 50 Goal." He was so concerned with cable’s embryonic image that it was not unusual for his temper to flare up inside the office so the staff could hear very loud banging occurring in his inner sanctum when something tried to dent cable’s fragile advertising armor he had carefully built. When I left CAB in 1985, the staff had grown into 15 or so people, doing twice as much, as Bob kept driving the industry, the ad community, and his staff to think big, see big, and act big. The small staff had a certain camraderie and elan even as people came into this tiny, non-profit trade association that Bob made into the veritable third center of the cable universe. The legislative and operational trade association, the NCTA in DC, would certainly be the second center; and with so many of the top MSOs then headquartered in Denver, that would’ve been the first center. I left in 1985 to the for-profit cable world. By then, almost every major and minor cable network, national sales rep, MSO and cable vendor was a CAB member. Bob had created a viable and strengthening cable ad sales army in less than five years. In 1981, Bob’s beginning in cable, there was roughly $124 million in cable ad revenue—in 1985, there was over $800 million. In 2005, there was more than $21 billion in cable ad revenue. For context, ad revenue was closing in on high single-digit % of total cable industry revenue. Remember, it was less than 1% of total cable revenue at Bob’s arrival. What a journey it was, what an increase in importance to both of his constituencies due to his hard work and persistent creativity. But who could long stand in the way of Bob and Bob’s army, spearheaded by the CAB staff and aggressively fought by the entire cable industry advertising execs and sales teams. He had a heck of a run. He holds a special place. And he will be sorely missed. * * * Lynne Nardone, former staffer, CAB Bob Alter was a great statesman for the cable advertising industry and was ever appreciative of the industry’s support and confidence. He led the association at a time when championing geo- and demo-targeting and niche marketing were new concepts for television advertising effectiveness. His enthusiasm for cable delivering on this promise was genuine and infectious. Bob was the consummate promoter. As he told The New York Times in 1981: "It’s the first time where the medium itself and the ad agencies have a chance to shape the medium. And I think it will grow quicker than most people project." Under his leadership CAB launched three national industry ad campaigns. The first B2B campaign employed a notable theory of relativity, "E = mc2" that is "Effectiveness Equals More Cable". Subsequent campaigns—"America Is Cable Ready" and "America Is Sold On Cable"—were targeted to both the advertising community and consumers. His other marketing themes were "Cable Delivers Freedom of Choice" and "Cable. Making Television Even Better." In 1981 Bob inaugurated an annual conference that brought agency and advertising executives together with cable advertising sales executives to benchmark the advertising success stories and showcase the choice in programming that cable television offered. Education was the cornerstone of building credibility. CAB has made its presence know in agency boardrooms… Bob understood the importance of research and that big advertisers would demand it. CAB had the tough job of trying to overcome the inadequate research tools the industry was working with. Under vice president of research, Bruce Hoban, CAB initiated cable-proprietary research to make up for what the industry didn’t get from Nielsen. The Cable Audience Measurement Study (CAMS) documented the under-delivery of broadcast in cable households. Under the direction of CAB vice president of research Jack Hill (deceased), CAB introduced the Cable Planning System which allowed agencies to more formally assess cable’s market value, set cable budgets, compare cable to broadcast delivery and estimate cable’s reach and frequency. In Bob’s own words, he was dedicated to working with the cable industry to build a strong association that would serve the specific needs of the cable industry as it fulfilled its exciting promise as an advertising medium. Those who had the opportunity to work with Bob knew well the intensity and high standards of performance with which he directed and measured the organization’s efforts. To quote Bob from CAB’s 1981 member brochure: "The overall goal of the CAB is to establish Cable as a major advertising medium and attract an increasing share of total available advertising dollars…contributing to the profitability of each of its members. The growth and development of Cable as an advertising medium is only limited by our imaginations. That is what makes this venture so exciting. Together, we have the opportunity to help invent the future of advertising, while generating substantial additional revenues for Cable." * * * David Barr, former staffer, CAB I knew Bob since the early 60s; both our families lived in Hastings-on-Hudson (and still do). I wrote my MBA thesis on CATV system accounting rules. During my college years (and earlier), Bob knew of my interest in radio and the music business, and often brought me RAB materials. He also knew of my various ventures into local cable programming, and so when CAB came along, he invited me on board. While the public may be aware only of flamboyant programming pioneers like Ted Turner, industry veterans know that Bob Alter was one of the key people who created cable television as we know it today. Cable advertising wasn’t an easy sell in the beginning, either to advertisers or to cable system operators. Not to mention to viewers, who thought cable meant "no commercials" by definition, but that wasn’t CAB’s job to address. Having spent a couple of decades at RAB promoting radio in the face of the growing onslaught of television, Bob clearly was the person for the challenge of essentially creating a new advertising medium. While some advertisers and agencies readily saw the potential of cable and undertook various campaigns that also took advantage of the expanded creative options, most advertisers still thought only in terms of head counts. An early CAB mandate was to help pioneer new methodologies for measuring cable viewers, but until those were in place, we were mostly selling on the promise of narrowcasting, or targeting audiences by interests and/or geography. Most system operators had to be convinced that there was another potential revenue stream to be had besides the monthly bill for signal transmission, if they were willing to make the investment in pursuing it. On the other hand, there were a number of cable systems around the country who had already successfully entered the local advertising arena. As we started to learn more about them, Bob came up with the idea of profiling these systems as part of CAB’s monthly member publications (which I edited). Together we developed the Cable System Advertising Profile, a standardized format of reporting the advertising efforts of diverse systems based on my phone interviews with their managers. Other system operators could review these profiles and use them as guidelines for their own efforts. While Bob was always the official face and voice of CAB, he never hesitated to let the rest of the team shine or to give them due recognition. Certainly, Saralee Hymen (now Rosenberg), a CAB VP, gave at least as many, if not more, presentations than he did, and was never presented as a second banana but as a key executive of the bureau. When Cablevision magazine profiled the CAB on its first anniversary and wanted to put Bob on the cover of that issue, he instead arranged for the photo to include the entire CAB staff, from the VPs to the receptionist. In 1983 Bob was approached by Prentice-Hall, which wanted him to write a book for them about cable advertising. He invited me to co-author it with him, but when his workload limited the time he could devote to it and I had ended up writing about 90% of the book [Advertising on Cable: A Practical Guide for Advertisers, 1985], he decided that it should be published under my name and wrote a foreword to it as an imprimatur. * * * Frank Boyle, former EVP sales for Eastman National Sales Reps and board member of the Radio Advertising Bureau (and Jim Boyle’s father) Bob was a superb pitchman, hall of fame caliber. Most agency people respected and liked Bob, until they started to criticize some of Bob’s points. Bob had all the subtlety of a falling brick wall when he was defending cable. I was privileged to be elected to the RAB board of directors for three different terms, from 1965 to 1980. Bob and Miles [Davis, then RAB president] made a marvelous odd couple to run and grow RAB during that era of astonishing growth of radio. …Miles was like George Bush the First. Bob, born to be a control freak, made Dick Cheney sound like Mother Theresa. Bob was dedicated to getting things and projects done. Difficult to do in a room filled with outsized egos. Miles ran more of a popularity contest. Around 1979 cable TV was starting to make serious inroads in securing audience from traditional network, station and syndicated properties… the cable industry decided to form CAB, akin to RAB and TVB. Our automatic recommendation was for Bob Alter to run the CAB. Fortunately for the cable advertising business, Bob Alter got the job. With no specific research to clearly support Cable’s audience growth, Bob Alter and his intrepid but small research department (to which I contributed my son, Jim), came up with the brilliant concept of "Negative Share Strength." It was beautiful in its simplicity. Simply calculate the declining TV network and/or individual TV stations audiences from one Nielsen or ARB book to another—and shazam!—those negative shares had to be attributed to cable. The ad agencies loved it. Not because of its Jesuit logic, but because now, for the first time in 30 years, agency time buyers could seriously put the "regular TV guys’ feet" to the fire and negotiate for lower rates and better ad placement terms. As a friend and business colleague of Bob Alter’s for over 25 years, it was a distinct privilege and delight to know and work with Bob—and his saintly wife, Lucile. It was an era where the good guys in broadcast had such clear-cut traits. You never had to guess what they stood for. Everyone who knew or worked with Bob knew exactly what he’d say, or how he’d react, in every repeatable event. Thankfully it was an era where no one gave a rat’s ass about being politically correct—just about being correct. Bob was born in bucolic Martha’s Vineyard—such an unlikely spot for such a declarative and passionate guy to come from. The Romans described Bob Alter best with the phrase, "Sui Generis," meaning one of a kind. Mazel, Robert. * * *

The Daily


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