Local cable advertising salespeople must be wondering if they’re headed for multiple personality disorder diagnoses. They are being forced to become more than just local ad sales folks: They must be regional and national salespeople as well. There’s money behind it, of course. National advertising in cable should grow 12% to $15.8 billion by the end of this year, according to Robert J. Coen, Universal McCann’s director of forecasting. It grew 17% to $14.1 billion in 2003, the year that cable aggressively launched its effort to tackle the national and regional ad dollars by interconnecting more than 70 cable markets. This year, cable executives plan to get more national ad dollars from the presidential election. In fact, National Cable Communications, which was created by Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox, hired an agency with this goal in mind. NCC expects a 35% to 40% increase in political advertising this year compared to last, said Tom Olson, who retired as NCC’s CEO Dec. 31. NCC can do this because its electronic system—eBusiness Data Services—gives interconnects the ability to turn around ad buys quickly, which politicians require, said Ken Little, NCC’s EVP of technology and operations, while serving as a panelist at the Western Show. To keep cable’s personalities on a united front, NCC is offering its EDS system to all local cable systems, Olson said. Political advertisers may want to buy national spots through NCC, and one particular local zone to help bulk up on votes; with the EDS system, an agency can buy it all in one shot rather than follow a paper trail at a local level. Charlie Thurston, president of Comcast Ad Sales, also wants to help these interconnects target locally—which is one of cable’s key benefits—by bringing AdCopy and AdTag to up to 25 interconnects this year. These products allow advertisers to either send out the same message with different, tailored tags or send out different commercial messages to separate zones. Thurston also plans to launch video-on-demand advertising by year-end. But while interconnects are bringing in more regional and national ad dollars, they are also taking away more local inventory. This is where the personalities of local ad sales execs start to split. “It becomes more and more of an issue as Comcast pushes the interconnect strategy,” said Kevin Dowell, VP of Insight Media, the ad arm of Insight Communications. “Although it has not become a negative point, we are in constant discussion about it. It continues to be a focus as interconnects become more successful.” Managing inventory, therefore, will take on a new importance. “There might be a little bit of short-term pain if it’s not managed properly,” said Billy Farina, Cox’s VP of ad sales. “You are transitioning a sales staff and media buyers who are used to consuming the products a certain way, and now you’re telling them you need to modify it. Instead of selling broad rotators, you are going to be selling program-specific spots and you have to be getting the right price for that inventory.” Jim Heneghan, corporate VP of ad sales for Charter, said his main focus this year will be to sell program-specific spots rather than rotators. He also plans to invest significantly in management training to sharpen inventory management, improve communication skills and help local account executives sell advanced products in 2004. Larry Fischer, Time Warner Cable’s advertising sales president, agreed that managing inventory is “critical” this year. On top of deciding which program spots go to interconnects or to local zones, cable operators themselves are demanding more inventory to promote advanced services. In 2004, the moderate-to-large cable operators agree that they will need better training for managers, but when it comes to the smaller operators, it looks as if the focus will be on customized promotions. Seventy percent of all of Insight’s promotions, for example, will be customized in 2004, up from zero in 2003, Insight’s Dowell said. Similarly, Mediacom’s advertising arm plans to roll out more customized promotions this year, said Steve Litwer, VP of sales development. Charlie Thurston “walks in the door with a bigger gun than I do. I’m trying to level the playing field by bringing more guns,” Dowell said of his customized promotions.

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