Rising Tide of Growth

Mar 7, 2005  •  Post A Comment

By Sharon Edry

Special to TelevisionWeek

Jacksonville, Fla., may not yet be one of the top 50 cable markets in the country (it is currently designated market area No. 52), but this year’s Super Bowl host city is a fast-growing metropolitan area with increased rates of disposable income and housing development. That means expanded opportunities for cable ad sales, according to executives at Comcast Spotlight, the advertising wing of the city’s largest cable provider.

“Jacksonville is starting to come into its own. It’s a hot place to be right now-plus the [Feb. 6] Super Bowl added validity and credibility to the market,” said Chuck Herndon, general manager for Comcast Spotlight in Jacksonville. “Five-year projections in retail growth show pretty strong numbers-in the 20 [percent] to 30 percent range.”

Comcast provides cable to 311,000 households out of 423,000 in the DMA, which encompasses six counties in southern Georgia. Through an interconnect agreement, Comcast Spotlight sells all advertising for Comcast and the other cable providers in the area, including Adelphia and Time Warner. Cable penetration is 69 percent in the DMA and much higher in the urban areas, according to company figures.

“Our subscriber base has grown 12 percent over the past six years, which is good considering we came into a situation where we had to turn around some service issues with the previous provider,” Mr. Herndon said. He said making available new products and technology, such as video-on-demand and digital video recorders, figured into that turnaround. For advertisers, new products such as Adtag and Adcopy present new options for clients, he said.

“Cable now offers unheard-of flexibility for advertisers,” Mr. Herndon said. “Broadcast can’t do that, [and] radio can’t do that. If you want to buy the entire DMA, you can, but if you just want a five-mile radius near the beach, you can do that too.”

For Rhodes Furniture, a 70-store chain in the Southeast with five stores in the Jacksonville area, cable advertising has proved to be a valuable sales tool over the past five years, and the store is on pace for a record first quarter in 2005. “We had a couple of the biggest days in our history in the area in January,” said Dave Schwartz, Jacksonville area manager for Rhodes.

“We had some extra promotions around New Year’s-in some cases three major campaigns going at the same time-and they’ve been dramatically successful,” he said.

Mr. Schwartz said the packages Comcast Spotlight has offered, which use a variety of networks and time slots, have been very strong. “The price ends up making better sense for us than any other media,” he said.

The biggest challenge for cable ad sales in Jacksonville, Mr. Herndon said, is inventory management-educating clients so they don’t buy more than they need. “Some clients still feel that the only place to reach people on cable is in prime time, which is simply not true anymore,” he said. “So sometimes you end up cluttering up certain parts of your inventory and then you have to take rates up-which is fine, but they’re really missing out on the opportunity to hit viewers up in other areas that are just as lucrative.”

As for the big game, Mr. Herndon said, the impact of hosting the Super Bowl on local cable advertising is not what might be expected. He said some clients actually decrease ad spending for the weeks surrounding the game, assuming they don’t need to promote because of increased crowds or, conversely, that advertising doesn’t pay because many people will be out of town.

“It’s ludicrous to think about, but that mentality does exist, so we [had] to guard against that by working out packages that encourage clients to stay on,” he said.