Comcast Net Sales: Passion for Topic Defines Viewers Comcast’s Cable Nets Skew Upscale

Feb 14, 2005  •  Post A Comment

One network follows golf, another bull riding, one worships celebrities, another is deep into video games. One tracks fashion, another Asian culture.

But this collection of networks, all owned wholly or in part by cable giant Comcast, has several things in common, said David Cassaro, president of Comcast Network Advertising Sales. “They’re targeted to people who are passionate about style, who are passionate about golf, who are passionate about video games, who are passionate about Asian culture,” Mr. Cassaro said. “And those passionate viewers also happen to be upscale.”

Until recently Mr. Cassaro was head of sales for E! Entertainment. Then Comcast elected to consolidate the ad sales operations of its networks under Comcast Network Advertising Sales. The group also includes Style, Outdoor Life Network, G4 and the International Channel. (Mr. Cassaro has a consulting relationship with Golf Channel.)

Even with the consolidation of the sales departments, in some cases the networks will still sell separately. “In terms of coming up with the creative marketing ideas, the branded entertainment, marketing platforms, there are things we can do together,” Mr. Cassaro said.

Take G4’s video game awards show “G-Phoria.” “We can take a run of that show on E! There are celebrities at events, so it makes sense on some levels for E!,” he said.

That kind of repurposing would give both the show and its advertisers added exposure. “Cross-marketing among the networks benefits the networks, but it also benefits the advertiser,” Mr. Cassaro said.

Beer, for example, might not be appropriate on G4, which attracts a big audience that is not of drinking age. “Individual brands that might make sense for Style within [Procter & Gamble] probably wouldn’t make sense on G4, but might make sense on OLN,” he said.

Mr. Cassaro is also excited about selling other opportunities Comcast is offering. One is in the area of video-on-demand and digital video recorders. “Smart advertisers are embracing the changes in technology, and there are few companies that are better suited than Comcast to take advantage of those new opportunities,” he said.

There are also opportunities for advertisers who want to deliver localized messages by working with Comcast Spotlight, the cable operator’s spot sales organization. “There’s tremendous opportunity to provide a variety of touchpoints to advertisers,” he said.

Ad buyers are waiting to see what Mr. Cassaro can do with these assets. “We’re nothing but hopeful for this group,” said Harry Keeshan, executive VP and director of national broadcast at media buying agency PHD. “There’s a load of opportunities for advertisers to pair up with these guys. I think that Dave is the man to get it done. He should be able to pull some very interesting things together for the company.”

Mr. Cassaro plans to highlight those touchpoints at a presentation Feb. 15 in New York. The theme is “Feed Your Passion.”



Ted Harbert, president of E! Networks, has a much bigger niche to mine. “Everyone loves entertainment,” he said.

E! has been able to command high ad prices because of its young, affluent viewership and because of its focus on movies and TV. But that niche is under siege. “I’ve got real competition coming after me from VH1, TV Guide, Bravo, A&E, TV Land,” Mr. Harbert said. “We’ve got a very loyal both 18 to 49 and 35 to 49 audience.”

He said he has one job at E!: “To improve the quality of the core programming that’s always been on E! and put on some shows that have never been on E! We’ve got to swing for the fences and find the hit that really distinguishes us.”

Mr. Harbert said both programming and marketing expenditures have risen. “Both budgets at this company in my view were depressed and needed to increase, and [Comcast has] let me do that. And now my job is to get them results.”

The network is probably best known for its red carpet coverage, but “It’s four or five nights out of our year,” Mr. Harbert said. “I believe this company depended on that too much. After the award shows, the public moves on and is looking for other TV shows, and we have to be there.”

The network recently announced plans to run dramatizations of the upcoming Michael Jackson trial and hopes to use its Oscars coverage as a launch pad for new programming. “Advertisers love this network because it delivers a broad, 18 to 49 upscale male and female demographic,” Mr. Harbert said.

When the advertising upfront rolls around, his pitch is ready. “We’re going to say we have the highest programming budget ever, the highest marketing budget ever and a more diverse program schedule that will hopefully enable E! to find that elusive hit.”

Mr. Harbert also oversees the Style network, which is in 40 million homes. “It’s just poised to explode,” he said. “The story on Style’s demographics is extraordinary,” scoring especially with women earning more than $75,000 a year.

Style plans to introduce a new show called “Craft Corner Deathmatch.” “It turns the world of craft into an extreme sport,” he said. “It’s really funny, but like every Style show, it delivers the information that you need to have.”



Gavin Harvey, president of Outdoor Life Network, said his network has increased its viewership with key demos and reduced its median age by three years over the past 12 months. He said the network has been focusing on men 25 to 49 by acquiring events with strong appeal to that audience, such as the Gravity Games, the Dakar Rally and the Boston Marathon. That is all in addition to its Tour de France coverage. “This is the essence of what OLN is all about,” Mr. Harvey said.

The network has also tweaked some of its popular programming to appeal to younger male viewers. Take professional bull riding, which traditionally delivered high household ratings but was top-heavy among viewers 55-plus. The network repackaged bull riding “to make it feel more like an action sport than a cowboy lifestyle show,” he said.

Research showed that while the traditional OLN viewing audience liked the cowboys, younger viewers liked the man-versus-beast aspect. So the network found a way to appeal to both by focusing on the bulls, which now get their own profiles, rankings and statistics. The strategy paid off, with PBR in January registering a 212 percent increase among men 25 to 54, a 300 percent increase among men 18 to 49 and a 1,000 percent increase among men 18 to 34.

“As PBR goes, so goes OLN,” Mr. Harvey said. “If we can shift the demographics of this traditional bull riding sport to bring in younger demos, I’m confident we’re going to see this trend continue.”

OLN is also increasing its number of original series, launching shows in several genres. Among them are “Fearless,” a biography series featuring outdoor sports heroes, and countdown shows such as “25 Most Courageous Stories.” “This stuff does great,” he said.

Upcoming is a reality show featuring athletes who want to compete in the Gravity Games.

Mr. Harvey said that the network is targeting both “doers,” people who participate in these sports, and “‘viewers,’ people who come to our programming because it’s thrilling, adrenaline-charged competition. So we hit it from both sides.”

Ad clients also come from both sides, ranging from Trek, a top-of-the-line bicycle maker, to AOL. “We really do a great job in both worlds,” he said, because it’s not just the viewers who are passionate. “People here love the channel. … Everybody’s got some outdoor hobby that they like to do.”


Young men are the primary audience for G4. “The fact is that we have the highest concentration of men 12 to 34 of any network on television,” said Charles Hirschhorn, CEO and founder of G4. “There’s no second place. We are 50 percent more concentrated than Comedy Central and MTV2.”

The average age of the network’s typical viewer is 21. Mr. Hirschhorn said he would
like it to be two years older, making him one of the few TV executives looking to advance viewer age.

The attraction for younger viewers is obvious. “I think video games is sort of this generation’s rock ‘n’ roll,” Mr. Hirschhorn said. “They grew up with it; their parents didn’t. … It influences everything they do-games, movies, music, clothes, heroes, books, comics. It’s a giant factor in their lifestyle and popular culture. Obviously G4 hits the bull’s-eye for this demographic.”

Thanks to Comcast’s acquisition of Tech TV, which was merged with G4, distribution has grown from 12 million to 50 million homes. Now more viewers are needed. “Now we’re putting money into programming and marketing,” Mr. Hirschhorn said.

G4’s programming is branching out. In addition to pure video game shows, the network is starting to make programs that are more lifestyle-oriented. G4 is jumping on the drift racing bandwagon this summer with the Formula D league. Drift racing, which first became popular in the mountains of Japan, features cars that slide sideways. The sport is featured in an EA video game, “Need for Speed Underground,” the second-most-popular sports video game in the country.

G4 is also airing “Girls Gone Wired,” a virtual beauty pageant featuring the women from video games. It will launch its first consumer marketing campaign promoting the network on the Internet, on television, at local events, on the radio and in print.

G4’s sponsors are a who’s who of companies interested in young men, including Jeep and Toyota’s Scion, Circuit City, EB Games, Puma, Juicy Fruit, Coke, Mountain Dew, Snickers and the armed services. Music, movies and video game retailers and manufacturers are also on board.

The network has done program integrations on cable and on the Internet with Coca-Cola, which sponsors a five-hour weekend block, and Snickers, which sponsors an NFL pre-game show in which the teams square off on EA’s John Madden game.

“We have a unique advantage because our audience is young. They’re highly interactive,” Mr. Hirschhorn said. “We can be more flexible in finding opportunities for our sponsors to reach young men in a very direct way.”



Comcast’s International channel is being transformed from a network featuring a patchwork of programming from different countries in 20 languages into one that will focus on the Asian American market, effective March 28.

With digital channels springing up that focus on each nationality, cable and satellite operators were cool on the old International Channel, which had just 10 million subscribers. “At least now we’re starting to get some real interest. We’re on the radar screen of all the major MSOs,” said Steve Smith, managing director, International Channel Networks. “They haven’t been excited about what we were doing in the past and now we’re getting some good vibes.”

The network has been running a two-hour prime-time programming block called Asia Street, which features music and anime. The block is aimed at first- and second-generation immigrants who have lived in the United States for more than five years and are proficient in English.

“From the success of that block and the advertisers that came on, we were encouraged to go after that group with a full block of programming,” Mr. Smith said. When the network relaunches, everything in prime time will be either produced in English or subtitled in English.

“We’ve significantly ramped up our budget, and our original programming is starting to get traction,” Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Smith said the channel’s advertising was initially driven by Asian ad agencies. “A lot of the advertising was placed by telcoms for phone cards, insurance, financial services-as you’d expect,” Mr. Smith said. “But as the awareness of the affluence of this group has been creeping in, suddenly the automotives have really jumped in.”

Now the network’s biggest advertisers are Honda, Ford, Mercedes and Scion. The Hollywood studios have also been advertising as they release more Asian-themed titles, such as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Hero” and “House of Flying Daggers.” “The studios have been using us to help reach that audience,” he said.

“What we’re really trying to do,” Mr. Smith said, “is lay claim to the Asian American market and make it clear that we will be providing a national platform to reach this market.”


David Manougian, president of The Golf Channel, said one strength they have is that “we have some of the most loyal, passionate viewers that you could ever hope to have.”

Golf Channel’s advertising has been growing at about 10 percent a year. Mr. Manougian expects that to continue this year. As its ad revenues have grown, the portion of revenues coming from endemic advertisers-makers of clubs, balls and other golf-centric products-has been shrinking. It’s now down to about 45 percent.

“When you’re selling to financial institutions, when you’re selling to automotive companies, they don’t care, quite honestly, whether [our viewers] are playing golf, playing tic-tac-toe, what they’re playing. They’re more concerned with what’s the compositions and what are the demos of the people that are watching. That’s what they’re buying.”

Golf Channel viewers are both affluent and influential. Mr. Manougian points to Mediamark Research statistics showing the Golf Channel with the highest concentration of what the research company terms “influencers”-people who get their peers and colleagues to use the products they use.

“It’s a really great statistic for us,” he said, “because it basically says each one of our viewers is already a very affluent person that can buy what they want when they want to, but now, they not only do that themselves, but they influence other people to do the same.”

Golf Channel maintains four separate sales organizations. One sells to general advertisers, one to endemic advertisers, one to direct response and one seeks sponsors for golf tournaments.

This season the golf channel has the Champions Tour, which is adding Curtis Strange and Greg Norman. And it plans to air two versions of its reality show “Big Break,” one featuring women vying for exemptions to LPGA tour events, another pitting U.S. golfers against Europeans, with the winners getting a spot at the Nissan Irish Open. The network is also televising the Solheim Cup women’s golf event.

“We couldn’t have asked for much more of an exciting year as we look ahead for our 10th-anniversary celebration,” Mr. Manougian said.