Among the best decisions cable ever made was luring a savvy radio ad man who became a dogged proponent for local cable ad sales. By Shirley Brady The theme of the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau’s conference earlier this month was "Tomorrow Today." But let’s not forget yesterday. That cable ad sales are projected to near $24 billion this year is due in great part to CAB founder Robert H. Alter, who died in March, aged 77. In 1981 the board of the Cable Telecommunications Association for Marketing provided the seed money for CAB and lured Alter from the Radio Advertising Bureau to run it. The goal: Start a separate trade organization to promote advertising on national networks and local cable systems. "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," CTAM founder Greg Liptak recalls. "Local newspapers, broadcast television and radio said that cable viewing was minimal and worthless to local advertisers…We all agreed that radio had to fight for advertising dollars against broadcast television—and therefore Bob would be a leader who had experience in this underdog position." Alter quickly hired salespeople to help pitch a skeptical Madison Avenue on cable advertising, plus researchers to prove that cable had loyal viewers. Also facing skeptics in cable’s ranks, he organized "Cable Days" seminars and the first annual local advertising conference in December 1981 to promote the burgeoning revenue stream. With just three interconnected cable markets in 1981 (the S.F. Bay Area, Tulsa, Okla., and Naples, Fla.), critics argued that cable earned less than 1% of its revenue from ad sales and the bulk from the subscriber—so why even bother? Thankfully, Alter refused to take no for an answer, and by 1985 virtually every cable network, operator and vendor was a CAB member. "In 1981, there was roughly $124 million in cable ad revenue—in 1985, there was more than $800 million," says Jim Boyle, who ran CAB member relations in the early days. "In 2005, there was more than $21 billion in cable ad revenue." Those numbers speak volumes—but they don’t tell the full story of the man Liptak calls cable advertising’s "consummate salesman." Please click HERE for tributes to Bob Alter from his former CAB colleagues.

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