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ABC Makes the Case for Broadcast

Jan 12, 2004  •  Post A Comment

With media buyers increasingly heeding the siren song of cable, ABC is singing the praises of broadcast television.
For advertisers looking to reach consumers, “There is nothing as powerful as network television. It’s as good as it gets, and that has not changed,” said Mike Shaw, president of ad sales at ABC, which spent the past few months putting together a special presentation pitching the attributes of broadcast. “I think we are behind the eight ball a little bit. Cable has gotten a jump out there and has been doing [these presentations] for years,” Mr. Shaw said.
The presentation, called “The GRP Reality Check,” uses statistics from the Big 4 broadcast networks and includes clips from shows, such as “Everyone Loves Raymond,” “ER” and “24” as well as ABC’s “The Bachelor.”
Mr. Shaw said the pitch is not designed to bash cable. But it does feature comparisons that indicate cable does not measure up in programming, distribution or ratings. “This presentation should not be viewed as an anti-cable pitch, because it’s not. What this really is is a very proactive network pitch,” he said.
While ABC’s pitch is designed to open a dialogue with buyers and marketers that will end with the upfront in May, the presentation does not address the price of broadcast advertising. “The value of network television is up to each individual network to speak to,” he said. “This is really about why network television is so important to that media mix and is critical for every advertiser with national distribution.”
ABC is showing it to top media buyers. In coming weeks, ABC will show it to buyers, planners, marketers and brand managers. “All of our customers we’ve shown the pitch to say `We agree.’ Obviously, it comes down at the end of the day to the question of cost, but that’s something this presentation in particular isn’t designed to get into. We’ll get into that in the months ahead,” Mr. Shaw said.
Despite bold talk from some anonymous media buyers, Mr. Shaw said he finds it hard to believe that this year advertisers will significantly reduce their spending on network and spend it instead on cable.
Mr. Shaw also questioned what marketers would get if they spent 20 percent more money in cable. “There’s no place else for all that money to go. It’s not like all those other cable networks aren’t being funded,” he said “Last year they did $5 billion and change in the upfront. So what are you telling them if you come into the upfront with $6 billion and change? Everybody raise your prices 15 percent. So why is that in the marketplace’s interest to do that in January?”
The ABC presentation points to broadcast’s strength in distribution and programming.
With 99 percent household coverage and more than 200 locally branded affiliates, it’s the strongest system ever put together and one that may never be duplicated, Mr. Shaw said. Charts point out that broadcast’s coverage reaches all regions evenly, grabs viewers in relatively urban areas-the so-called “A-counties” and is effective in reaching the fast-growing African American and Hispanic audiences. In contrast, half of the ad-supported cable networks reach fewer than 55 percent of TV homes.
The presentation also notes the breadth of network programming. All together the Big 4 broadcasters spend $11 billion on programming, compared with $3.5 billion for the top 4 cable networks. And $9.1 billion for the 108 cable networks tracked by Kagan World Media.
“I’m not saying `Nip/Tuck’ or `Monk’ and `Queer Eye’ or any of those shows aren’t great. I think they are great. And that’s good for cable to have a couple of shows that work. But you can take all the shows that you guys in the trades have indicated that are working, that are coming up and what does it fill? One, 11/2 nights of prime-time television. You’ve got four major networks doing seven nights a week.”
Mr. Shaw said it is a story that hasn’t been told since the demise of the Network Television Association in 1994.
Mr. Shaw said his counterparts at the other network were aware that ABC-now the No. 3 network-was putting together the presentation because ABC requested materials from them. But he added that “there is no organization or legal way for us to get together and discuss common goals like they do in cable and syndication.”
Among the senior media buying agency executives who saw the presentation last week was Andy Donchin, director of national broadcast at Carat. “I told them, `I think you’re preaching to the converted,”’ Mr. Donchin said. “I buy a ton of cable, but the need and the value of network television is still important.”
The ABC effort also began in a week in which a new survey showed that more than 30 percent of ad buyers said they plan to increase the amount of advertising they spent on ESPN, Discovery Channel, TLC, HGTV, TBS, TNT, VH1, Food Network and E! Beta Research, which interviewed 300 media buyers, planners, directors, supervisors and managers, said the percents for several of those networks were up from a similar 2002.
The ad buyers said that ESPN had a stronger brand image than any broadcaster, and that MTV, Lifetime, Discovery, Nickelodeon and CNN’s brand image was stronger than CBS, ABC or Fox.
NBC was tops with ad buyers in terms of having appealing audience demos, but the survey found that Lifetime, ESPN, Discovery, HGTV, E!, Food Network and MTV topped the other broadcasters.