As local cable systems continue to refine ways to claim more of the ad dollars from their broadcast competitors, they have increasingly turned to local-market consumer research to better understand their customers.
Cable networks as well have ratcheted up their reliance on specific qualitative data to measure the appeal of their programming and to communicate that in turn to advertisers in local markets.
That puts research firm Scarborough Research in a sweet spot in the local cable sales business. It provides qualitative market data on local consumers, their demographics and their shopping habits to networks and cable systems for the top 75 markets. Scarborough Research is a joint venture of Arbitron and VNU Marketing Information, the parent company of Nielsen.
Scarborough has traditionally provided its research data to cable systems, including the majority of Time Warner, Cox and Adelphia markets. It broadened its focus during the past few years to include cable networks as well. Scarborough landed its first network client in 1999 and added five new networks last year, bringing its network count to more than 30.
“Networks themselves have gotten more focused on local and supporting things such as local ad sales for their customers, so they really need data that would put them on the same page with their customers,” said Carol Edwards, VP, Arbitron Cable.
Scarborough uses telephone research and questionnaires to cull data on where people shop, what they plan to buy and who they are. That information can then help paint a composite picture of a viewing audience or a segment, which can be useful for networks and for local advertisers trying to reach specific consumers.
Local information is vital to cable systems that are considering carrying new networks and to local advertisers that are deciding where to promote their products, said Kurt Greves, VP, affiliate advertising and Central Western regions, Comedy Central, which also assists start-up Tennis Channel in distribution.
“What we find with Comedy Central and Tennis Channel is we work with local folks, and they don’t want national numbers,” he said. As the Tennis Channel seeks carriage deals, Mr. Greves can meet with local cable systems’ marketing officials and say, as an example, “Tennis enthusiasts in your market are 10 times more likely to buy a digital box.”
With an established network like Comedy Central, providing local-market data to affiliates is important for keeping the network top of mind. “The more valuable the network is, the less likely the operator is to drop the network,” he said. “If we go to Phoenix and do local ad sales [training], the people there want to hear about what’s happening in their market. So we provide [the data] to the cable system to do ad sales training about Comedy Central.”
Local cable systems have ramped up their use of such data. Cox Media, the local ad sales arm for Cox Communications, relies on local demographic data to help clients better understand their current and future customers, said Nicole Buie, director of research and sales development for Cox Media. “Research has to be the foundation of any salesperson going after broadcast dollars,” she said.