Benny Griffin has been at this for a long time. As a Wichita-based researcher, his boutique research facility has been helping ad sales people analyze local markets since the mid-1980s. In fact, ad sales research seeped into his blood. Literally. He now has two sons in the business. One of them, Bennett, recently developed a killer software program that allows clients to not just view, but interact with, market data. It allows them to randomly select different criteria to determine, for example, the number of red Ford pickup truck owners in a given cable system. But more than that, it tells them which of these truck owners soon will be in the market for a new truck. Benny saw what his son developed, saw the increasingly complex and competitive cable landscape and thought there must be a way to influence more areas of the cable business than just ad sales. He asked Bennett to add a layer to the program that would measure attitudes and usage of telecommunications products and other things cable marketers might want to know. Now, with a couple of mouse clicks an end user will be able to determine how many men 18-34 in a given geographic area have just purchased an HDTV, and how many of that group earns more than $50K, owns a home and subscribes to DBS. Or how many do all those things and drive a red Ford pickup truck. The ways to slice and dice the data seem as endless as the imagination of the user. But now the question comes, are cable’s marketers ready for such a product? Griffin admits he has some concerns that despite radical changes in the marketplace and the heightened competition, some MSOs might be slow to embrace the need for greater sophistication. As he said, "Some seem to understand it, some don’t." It’s interesting that Benny has gained such acceptance from the ad sales community, yet finds he has to pitch marketers from the same company. After all, it’s ultimately the same person who signs both sets of paychecks, right? But that is one of the great conundrums of cable – the staggering infrequency with which marketing and ad sales actually talk and share intelligence. And even though CTAM recently has been trying to bring the groups together, it’s as though they are two trains headed to the same destination on parallel tracks. Benny feels cable has two compelling points of differentiation when compared to DBS: VOD and locally originated (LO) programming. He and I discussed Sunflower and TWC Milwaukee, two systems that are combining VOD and LO. He believes each is not only a pioneer, but will be emulated as the DBS war escalates. His major concern, however, goes back to ad sales. He feels that as operators seek a greater slice of the $28 billion national spot pie, they’ll continue to act more like broadcasters, and behave less like local entities. He claims that using ratings to chase spot dollars tends to "commoditize" cable, and minimizes its competitive advantages vs DBS. Griffin hopes that even as operators chase after those national spot dollars, they’ll continue to stress the localism that has made their medium unique. "Cable is truly a neighborhood medium," says Benny, "and when everything starts to become a commodity, how you win is to find those areas of differentiation and focus on them." My guess is an encyclopedic knowledge of the local marketplace is a good place to start, even if you’re not selling red Ford pickup trucks. M.C. Antil can be reached at m.c.antil@att.net.

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