Around the same time period (early '80s) as the cable networks jumped into the marketing mix fray thanks to the acceptance of Ted Turner's 5% solution - a notion that suggested that advertisers should allocate a minimum of 5% of their TV spend to cable - scale shrank dramatically and market coverage approaching 30 million was acceptable. Unless of course, you were a Superstation - a TV broadcaster whose signal was picked up by cable systems throughout the country - in which case you were expected to deliver much greater undefined scale. Every year hence the TV buying community would magically and mysteriously demand greater scale from the cable networks if they wished to qualify for consideration in the upfronts.
By the mid-'80s Fox Broadcasting signaled that 80% of the U.S. was a righteous scale - a contrarian notion given that the Big Three stalwarts in the TV community boasted nearly 99% U.S. coverage.
In the mid-'90s two exceptions arose to further challenge the rule of acceptable scale: the Golf Channel entered the viewing fairway with 20 million possible eyeballs, when the acceptable line of "reach" demarcation was 50+ million; and the fledgling networks UPN and the WB bowed. Each engaged the buying community with their unique proposition: young adult- and urban young adult-skewing broadcast networks; and come on, all the important decision-makers golf.
Scale is what you make of it.
Let's take the interactive TV community, for example. I often hear complaints by my advertising agency brethren that they cannot support interactive TV because there is too little scale. The cable operators, satellite providers and soon IPTV platforms offer sizeable markets to engage with the viewing public and glean directional learning from their multifaceted applications provided by technologists (alphabetically) Invidi, Navic and Visible World - to name the most prominent. Couple those interactive opportunities with the possibility of generating click stream activity from researchers (alphabetically), erinMedia, GFK, Rentrak and TNS, with proposals of marriage from lifestyle dataminers (alphabetically) Acxiom and Experian and the possibilities are ... well scalable.
A thought. So far, the entities that have been most engaged in trying to proselytize the iTV notion have been the pay TV platforms. After all, they are looking for ways to monetize the value of their local inventory - which I think garners $4.5 billion of the $70 billion TV advertising pie. Each platform, whether cable system operator or satellite provider, is approaching the ad community individually to stimulate interest and ultimately, garner revenue. To date, their national sales efforts have not met with the kind of enthusiasm contemplated by their management. A market or two or 10 does not qualify as a national buy but rather is designated as a multimarket buy - neither local nor national. Scalable and categorizable issues, cries the ad community.
Maybe it is time for the pay TV platforms to extend their partnerships with the content providers (the cable and broadcast networks) via their premium programs. Why not allow the more prominent cable networks and leading broadcasters to sell iTV applications for their premium programs directly to the advertisers and their agencies. After all, they have the relationships with the national TV buyers, and most probably, are generating millions from their linear and VOD activity - upwards of $32+ billion, I am told. Since the cable and broadcast networks already have recognizable "scale," relationships and programming that is deemed valuable by advertisers and consumers alike, I would think that once the pay TV providers extend their iTV applications across their realm and partner up with the national networks, the only details to be worked out will be the equitable revenue split.
Of course, scale matters -- but isn't it how you measure it?