Cable Networks Ready For Battle -- But On What Front?

Now it's the eve of upfront market -- and cable networks still haven't figured out how they will ink advertising business, according to a number of media research executives. Commercial ratings? Old program ratings?

While broadcast networks as well as syndication programming sales executives are ready to offer up some form of commercial ratings guarantees, cable networks are leaning toward doing business the old-fashioned way.

Weeks ago, the cable industry took the position that current Nielsen data is wrong and inaccurate. With that in mind, networks want this upfront to be like the old upfront --guaranteeing audiences on live program ratings.

But some media agencies say that isn't good enough -- because other research suggests that cable networks are the "worst offenders" when retaining an audience from program content to advertising content, according to one media agency executive.



Such executives say many will be judged with the rest of the market. If cable networks insist on using program ratings, those numbers will be discounted, adjusted, massaged to conform to their new world, a world that TV marketers want now, this year, right or wrong.

Many TV sellers and media agencies say they are flying blind this upfront season, not really knowing how commercials ratings will fare in relation to program ratings. They can't get a baseline of data to build from.

Perhaps some cable networks will look to appease TV marketers -- or at least take the cue from Starcom MediaVest Group and The Weather Channel, and other parties of a year ago, offering some additional audience metric, such as engagement guarantees. A&E, among other networks, is considering such a move.

The bottom line is that the ball is rolling and cable executives have two modes of action. 1) Don't move -- and take what comes; or 2) find a way to join the race.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em -- under your own enlistment program.

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