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Big Change in the Big D

Apr 12, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Five years ago, if you wanted to advertise on Dallas cable, well, you wished you didn’t have to.
“Dallas was wired, but it was hopeless. The system was run-down. Every time it rained, it would go out,” said Larry Spiegel, a principal at Dallas ad agency The Richards Group. “Neighbors would tell neighbors `don’t bother.”’
But all that has changed since Comcast’s arrival in 2002. “Comcast has come in here and taken the Dallas system and made it stronger and made it a more viable advertising medium. It is almost like we have a new cable system in town and have never seen it before,” Mr. Spiegel said. “We did promotions over the years with other guys like Warner Amex, Heritage and AT&T. But now with Comcast it is like they have created a new medium called cable in Dallas. They are really a force here.”
Fort Worth was never as bad off as Dallas, but the Dallas-Fort Worth designated market area still lags behind many other top 10 markets when it comes to cable subscribers. Cable penetration today sits at 48.3 percent, down from 50.3 percent in 1999 (satellite penetration is high at 27.8 percent). Total television households for the market is 2.25 million out of a population of 5.95 million.
The 32-county DMA covers 26,000 square miles and is larger than five states in the Northeast, according to Biff Niven, VP and general manager, Comcast Spotlight, Dallas-Fort Worth, which owns and operates the area interconnect. About 10 cable companies operate in the area, of which Comcast is the largest, with about 60 percent of the interconnect’s 1,045,000 subscribers. Charter Communications has 22 percent. A distant third is Cox.
Even Charter Communications is quite pleased with how Comcast is handling its ad sales. “Comcast represents us [in Dallas], and they have been representing us quite well,” said Paul Sly, VP of ad sales for Charter Communications’ Midwest division.
The interconnect, which covers about 97 percent of all the cable homes, has seen a 6.6 percent increase in subscribers as of first quarter 2004 over first quarter 2003, when it had a mere 980,000 subscribers.
Since Comcast entered the Dallas-Fort Worth market in November 2002 as a result of its merger with AT&T Broadband, there have been several changes, Mr. Niven said.
Comcast Dallas completed the rebuild of the fiber network serving the Dallas area, investing more than $70 million to bring in numerous new video channels, digital cable and high-speed Internet services. And the company launched high-definition TV service.
“We have also increased the number of networks we offer. We now offer 40 and we were at 36 last summer,” said Mr. Niven. “About a year ago we had 24 cable systems, and now we have 52 systems.”
Before the interconnect, the idea of dealing with 52 systems would have been a nightmare for media buyers. “As many suburbs as there are in Dallas-Fort Worth, there were those many cable companies. It became very difficult to place a buy throughout the entire metro area,” said Frank Nicholls, senior VP of media services for Euro RSCG Retail in Dallas. “From an agency standpoint it was extremely difficult to buy, period. There was no uniformity in rate structure and no uniformity in the households. Each system penetrated its own geographic area in a different way. It became difficult to analyze the buy or look at analysis to judge the effectiveness of it. It was like doing a crossword puzzle; it became many extra steps, and advertising agencies started shying away from them.
“And each of those systems had a sales staff that because they were having difficulty with the agencies, they’d go to advertisers directly. Now there is an interconnect in Dallas that provides advertisers with a much easier way to deal with one resource to place media across an entire market,” he said.
Mr. Spiegel expressed similar sentiment and said he finds the new system easier to navigate. “It is a much stronger medium and is virtually new, and we find that we are using more and more local cable as part of our broadcast efforts,” said Mr. Spiegel. “In partnership with [Comcast’s] sales force we are completing negotiations for two promotional efforts on behalf of two of our clients, [for] a Caribbean trip giveaway and a Comedy Central `Daily Show’ promotion.”
Buys in Dallas-Fort Worth have also changed since Comcast’s Adtag/Adcopy entered the market in March. “Adtag/Adcopy let us run different commercials in different areas of Dallas-Fort Worth and the client only receives one invoice just like they were buying the interconnect with one commercial,” said Mr. Niven. For example, in 2003 Care Now produced nine different commercials to advertise the locations of its 14 health-care facilities. It bought nine different systems so that it could run a different version in each zone.
“Thus, we had nine different orders for nine different zones and each zone had a different commercial resulting in nine different invoices,” said Mr. Niven. But by using Adtag/ Adcopy for the 2004 Care Now schedule, Comcast Spotlight was able to write up one order on the interconnect for the nine different commercials in the previously determined zones. The result was one order, one invoice.
“Comcast has increased its delivery and capabilities, and we have taken advantage of that,” said Steve Leh, senior VP of Young & Rubicam’s Southwest division, which represents Lincoln-Mercury in Dallas. “We have purchased more cable as Comcast has expanded its viewership in Dallas. We bought an NFL spot last fall and we bought a normal schedule that runs throughout the year.” Y&R also turned to Comcast when it needed help targeting adult males 50-plus for the auto dealer. “We looked at the programming in the golf package and it was consistent with the target audience we wanted,” said Mr. Leh. He also was able to tie in a sales incentive through Comcast that awarded the dealership with the highest percentage of achievement a trip to view the first days of the Masters, April 9-11. “Going to the Masters is like dying and going to heaven.”
Cowboys Power
But one cannot forget about football in this market. When new client ITT Technical Institute wanted to reach its demographic of men 18 to 34 in the Dallas market, Comcast Spotlight offered ITT a proposal with category exclusivity on the ESPN Clubhouse Web site, specifically for the Dallas Cowboys Clubhouse.
“ESPN is the No. 1 brand for sports and the Clubhouses provide dedicated, comprehensive coverage of local sports teams,” said Mr. Niven. “Our client received an on-air branding campaign with ESPN Clubhouse spots that drove viewers to the Web site for more info.” The Dallas Cowboys Clubhouse received about 732,000 hits in September 2003.
“There are a lot more sports followers in this marketplace than many of the markets I’ve been involved in,” Mr. Niven said. “The Cowboys, the Mavericks and hockey are all doing well. So there is a great interest here. The fact that we have such a huge content level of sports across a large network is very compelling to associate with. And we look for ways to brand with those events.”
Comcast Spotlight also was able to increase Academy of Sports and Outdoors spending by more than 75 percent year over year with a Country Music Television Award promotion. The enter-to-win promotion awarded viewers tickets to a “CMT Crossroads” taping in Nashville and a VIP tour of the Country Music Hall of Fame, among other prizes.
“It’s an education process to go through this with agency leaders and show them how television has changed and how Comcast Spotlight can improve efficiency,” Mr. Niven said. “It’s not just how many people you can reach, but who you can reach.”
Total TV ad revenue for Dallas-Fort Worth grew 2 percent year over year to $711 million in 2003, according to BIA Financial Network. The Chantilly, Va., firm expects that number to grow another 6.8 percent to $760 million by year-end.