That's what cable's advocates are saying these days, bolstered by cable's rising ratings, broadcasts' declining audiences and the targeting of key audiences that the 308-channel universe provides. The days of cable being the "Hamburger Helper" of TV buying are long gone. And cable's programming quality is increasing all the time. Just last year, ad-supported cable cracked the big time in awards when The Shield star Michael Chiklis won the Emmy for best actor.
Some of the nation's biggest TV advertisers must think there's something to cable's argument. A Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau analysis of Adview Data finds that among the top 10 national TV advertisers, 51% of their total-day impressions came from cable compared to 41% for broadcast and 8% for syndication. That's gone up 21% since the 1996-97 season, compared to a 16% loss for broadcast.
And on the audience side, cable overtook broadcast in total share last year. Broadcast, a victim of declining overall ratings, hasn't been able to stem the audience loss.
"You're really getting a better value with cable. With broadcast, you pay more for less," said CAB spokesman Steve Raddock. He said that with the broadcast networks' dropping share, an advertisers' buy is less but cable delivers more than you paid for. It's a message being driven home by many niche networks, which say that if you're looking for targeted audiences, cable's your ticket. "If you're targeting your audience, it's a much better investment in cable," said Raddock.
Scripps is one of the networks that wrote the book on niche targeting, with HGTV, Fine Living and DIY in its cable stable. Steve Gigliotti, SVP/advertising sales for the network, says the networks laser-light focus on adults 25-54 and women 25-54 have delivered key demographics for advertisers. Research shows Scripps' viewers are often women with average household income of $75,000 plus, upper socio-economic groups with high amounts of expendable income.
"It's the center of the bull's-eye," Gigliotti said.
He said Scripps is able to give advertisers what they want by "the environment we create and the targeted audience we deliver." While you could buy Friends, for example, and get tremendous reach, there's a problem. Not only are you getting your target audience, but you're also getting a lot of people you probably don't need or want. "You pay for everybody. The opportunity in cable is to pay for exactly who you want. That's why cable has been so successful," said Gigliotti.
And the upfront doesn't tell the whole story. With cable, about half of the inventory isn't sold during the upfront. That's a fair amount in the scatter market, but it's also becoming increasingly what Discovery Communications EVP/Sales Joe Abruzesse called "the calendar upfront," where the big deals aren't just happening in the spring. Discovery has already done this in a big way, with multiyear deals with Johnson & Johnson. Coca-Cola recently made an ownership investment in the newly launched College Sports Network and Anheuser-Busch has done the same with the nascent digital-tier Brief Original Broadcasts, or BOB.