Cox has been a local ad sales leader and innovator for so long that it’s easy to take it for granted. Its ad sales arm, Cox Media, was one of the first of cable’s ad sales arms to insert ads on both digital and high-definition networks, to interconnect markets and open business avenues on the on-demand, interactive and online platforms. Its latest innovation? Robust usage reports for on-demand ad campaigns, which it provides to agencies and advertisers. "We have a pretty long legacy within the industry of being one of the first movers into lots of different spaces," says Billy Farina, Cox’s SVP, advertising sales. "So innovation is something that we’ve always done. I just think we’re doing it a lot better now than we have in the past." Farina credits the 2001 retooling of the Cox sales organization for embedding innovation in its DNA. "We got away from the old cable model of selling tonnage and really became much more sophisticated partners with our clients through understanding not only our product but also their product," he says. Mitch Oscar, EVP of Carat Digital, who has worked with Cox Media on both VOD and interactive advertising, says, "The Cox organization is structured like a Special Forces intelligence unit. Billy and his national team have been driving innovation and they’ve stayed ahead of the curve by providing advertisers with comprehensible value propositions and managing internal marketing and local system expectation." EXPERIMENTS IN SAN DIEGO AND PHOENIX Five years ago Cox introduced research-based ad-sales efforts and a training program called "Fast Track" that continues to this day. "We identified what every individual in the organization would have to do to make us successful," Farina explains. "That helped us drive our core business—the traditional 30-second spot—and gave us the ability to innovate and create new product lines that we could offer to advertisers." Cox launched FreeZone, the cable industry’s first long-form VOD advertising platform, in its San Diego market in July 2002. Last year, FreeZone was expanded to nine markets. Each new Cox VOD market now includes FreeZone in its lineup. Then came the 2003 launch of interactive television advertising in Cox’s Phoenix market. It was a hit, growing 82% from 2004 to 2005, according to the company. (Cox also recently won a Beacon Award from CTPAA for an interactive campaign it created with the Phoenix chamber of commerce.) Cox’s interactive ad sales program has since expanded to its Tucson and San Diego systems, and will eventually launch across its 26 markets. DIALOGUE WITH CONSUMERS Besides creating new revenue streams, these advanced platforms provide insight into how cable advertising will work in the future as content becomes more mobile and is subjected to time-shifting consumption patterns, says Farina. (Privately held Cox does not disclose revenue numbers.) "The majority of our business is still selling 30-second commercials," he says. "But in tomorrow’s world that mix will change. As viewers consume the product differently, we have to make sure that there’s an application or technology that will enable us to follow them…so that [cable] advertising will still remain relevant." David Porter, director of new media for Cox Media, is responsible for maintaining that relevance with advertisers. "What marketers are demanding is a dialogue with their customers," he says. "All the things we’re focused on—VOD, interactivity, the Internet—facilitates this two-way dialogue." DEEP-DISH DATA Porter intends to use 30-second spots to link viewers to long-form VOD content, touting products and services. "And then we’ll enhance all this with special offers and discount coupons and brochures where they can opt in and then connect with brands," he says. Porter is also making sure advertisers and marketers value cable by offering them robust VOD usage data. "We are leading the industry in delivering detailed usage reports. The other cable operators are envious of the fact that we can do this," he says. In addition to basic VOD ad usage metrics usually offered by cable—such as total views, number of unique set-top boxes, average duration of a view and share of the set-top universe—Cox Media offers total views per daypart, plus ZIP code and demographic information. "The good news is by Cox Media being first out there with robust data, all the other operators are following in line now," Porter says. Besides competing with local TV stations in the traditional 30-second spot business, Cox Media’s challenge is to keep refining and improving its advanced platforms. Cox Arizona recently launched interactive advertising on Spanish-language networks, while Farina and Porter are closely watching results in San Diego, the company’s first market to offer both VOD and interactive advertising. "One thing we know for sure is that as time goes on people will get more control of what they consume, how they consume and where they consume it," Farina says. "Our goal is to make sure that we continue to be a relevant piece of that picture as it evolves." Cox Media’s Ad Advances Cox Media at a Glance Founded: 1981 as CableRep, rebranded Cox Media in 2003.
Number of households: more than 7.5 million homes across 23 markets in 15 states.
VOD ad sales: Cox FreeZone currently available to 1.5+ million Cox subscribers.
Interactive ad sales: available in Tucson and San Diego. Additional markets to follow.
Insertable networks: The average is 57 analog networks. Cox Media pioneered the insertion of local ads into hi-def networks and digital networks.

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Playwright and filmmaker David Talbert is working with Disney Branded Television on a musical series, “Madelyn Square Gardens,” about a young woman from Mississippi who moves to New York with big Broadway

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