Local advertising sales have long been the armpit end of the business for most cable operators. But now the biggest cable operator in the land looks to deodorize this ad sales business, which has been usurped by the Internet and other non-cable platforms.
"One of the things that is a drag on our business this year, which I wish was not the case, is advertising sales," said Brian Roberts, chairman/CEO of Comcast, at this week's Merrill Lynch Media and Entertainment Conference, in Marina Del Ray, Calif. "We're having really the worst year we've had in maybe forever."
With so many things seemingly going right for the cable operators -- the "triple play" of communication services, for example -- it's refreshing to hear that the biggest operators really suck at selling advertising time.
It dawned on Roberts that of the nearly $300 billion he said is spent on advertising in the U.S., cable, as a whole, only grabs 10%. That's because for years cable operators -- as well as cable networks -- had the easy street with those respective wholesale and retail monthly cable fees. As part of the triple play of services for consumers, cable operators also have the increasing benefit of monthly Internet and phone fees.
That "triple play" of services into the home isn't enough -- not when IPTV-like companies, as well as satellite distributors and Internet video platforms, continue to breathe fire down cable operators' backs.
It also isn't enough when Comcast sees that virtually all major studio content providers realize consumers aren't interested in paying for video downloads. But for ad-supported digital -- or analog -- video? That's no problem.
Suddenly, Roberts is moved to do something about the information in those spiffy digital set-top boxes marketers have been salivating over the last decade of so. Privacy issues aside, key TV tuning data is something advertisers would pay dearly for -- in terms of research and advertising revenue.
If cable operators could get, say, another 5% -- that would be $15 billion more for the industry - on top of the $29 billion Roberts say the cable industry already has, that would be a big deal for their respective bottom lines.
Enter a new "interactive advertising platform" that CableLabs has been developing since 2001 - something that promises to give marketers data and access to micro-niche targeting of homes and viewers, and, of course, more media buying and planning efficiencies.
Good news for stock market analysts and TV business journalists alike. Get ready to roll off your tongues the phrase "quadruple play" for years to come.