From broadcast to Comcast

May 14, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Roger Sverdlik is well-versed in the world of advertising sales. After 15 years in broadcast, Mr. Sverdlik left his post as executive vice president and national sales manager for ABC Television in November 1999 to join Comcast Corp. as senior vice president of advertising sales. In August 2000 he was named senior vice president of national sales, a position that expanded his responsibilities to include the local, regional and national levels. Mr. Sverdlik sat down recently with Electronic Media to talk about Comcast’s current ad sales initiatives and efforts for the future.
EM: What is at the core of Comcast’s ad sales business?
Mr. Sverdlik: We have a dual component, dual revenue stream in the MSO local cable ad sales business. Part 1 is our local system sales. Part 2 is what we call regional/national, which is selling to the large national advertisers. We’ve developed that by doing what’s commonly referred to as interconnecting the market. We have built these interconnects in all our major markets, and we have branded these interconnects as Comcast MarketLinks.
In Philadelphia we have 35 local sales teams that sell to the local retailers in each system. We then have Comcast MarketLink, which, using state-of-the-art technology, links together those local systems to provide a full-market sale to a national advertiser. The whole idea behind that is to emulate a television station. So a national advertiser buys one of the broadcast stations in Philadelphia and has one commercial that gets shown across the entire DMA. Comcast MarketLink, in effect, becomes another television station in the marketplace.
EM: What are Comcast’s strategies for dealing with the current sales environment?
Mr. Sverdlik: I’m not sure the strategy changes much whether you’re in a very strong ad market or a very weak ad market. We believe the ad sales game is one of selling the value of our product. The strategy is twofold. On a local system basis, that business is driven by our account executives and staff, because it’s going in to retailers and teaching them about the value of advertising, showing how we can work with them, building relationships. And our big challenge is to keep a fully staffed and effectively trained sales operation. So one of our big goals locally is recruitment, because if we have a system that loses a couple of key salespeople, we can almost always see an immediate drop in revenue. So we work very hard on having a pipeline of talent and on creating aggressive and innovative compensation programs for our account executives so we can keep hold of our best salespeople.
One other big challenge on the local side is category. Historically 30 percent of the local cable ad sales business has come from the automotive category-local car dealers. We believe we have to branch out and develop new categories because if you’re too reliant on one area and that area goes a little soft, you’re in trouble. So we have aggressive training programs in place and developmental sales strategies in place in categories like co-op, the health care industry and financial services.
EM: In your experience, how does cable differ from broadcast?
Mr. Sverdlik: The broadcast business is an extremely mature business. It’s a business driven by ratings, and ratings peaked years ago and have been on a steady downward spiral. Prices continue to go up, so I think the advertising community feels that at the broadcast level they’re paying more for less.
And when you’re selling broadcast or a national TV network, it becomes a price and terms negotiation. There’s not a lot of creativity. But on the cable side, we can sell these clusters of networks, we can zone different commercials. We have the opportunity to be very creative and to find creative marketing solutions to advertising issues.
EM: Is cable enjoying an up-and-coming period right now?
Mr. Sverdlik: Oh, the best is yet to come. We’re in the first inning. Philadelphia became a formal interconnect six months ago. So far we’ve seen about 70 new accounts that never would have advertised with Comcast. But because we provide this MarketLink value, all of a sudden these guys are saying, `Wow, I can buy these specific audiences and target and integrate value.’ The local system level business is a little further along in the growth curve, but the regional/national side is totally at the beginning of the growth curve, and that’s what’s so exciting for us.
EM: What issues are you focusing on for the future?
Mr. Sverdlik: Comcast is very aggressive in the rollout of digital boxes. We are evaluating what the advertising applications are. We believe, long-term, there is a significant revenue stream there. Right now we predominantly sell advertising on the top 32 cable networks, but eventually that number will grow and there will be a revenue stream deep into those other networks. And digital television, which offers interactive capabilities-what we’re doing is talking to the major advertisers about research, about working together. We’re in conversation with the major ad agencies and the top advertisers about how we can creatively learn more about interactive television and digital television. That’s the smart business play right now-try to figure it out together.