San Diego: Cable-Rich City Ready to Leverage its Position as a Single-Buy Market

May 23, 2005  •  Post A Comment

By Wayne Karrfalt

Special to TelevisionWeek

At a time when high gas prices and sluggish automobile sales are adversely affecting local ad spending, San Diego’s new interconnect has seen a 9 percent bump in national and regional sales so far this year and is expanding its sales force to try to capture a larger share of national spot buys flowing into the market.

One of San Diego’s selling points to advertisers has long been its industry-high 84 percent cable penetration, compared with a low 7 percent rate for DBS services. A compelling bundle of video, high-speed Internet and phone service and exclusive programming such as San Diego Padres baseball have made cable the preferred choice for residents.

“We’ve been fortunate that instead of losing homes, like other operators, we’re actually gaining them,” said Jeff Fisher, VP and general manager of the San Diego Interconnect run by Cox Media. Digital penetration is nearing 50 percent in the county, Mr. Fisher said.

With Time Warner Cable’s 230,000 subscribers joining Cox’s 530,000 and Adelphia’s smaller presence last October, cable in the 26th-ranked San Diego market finally has single-buy capability. The market had been one of only two of the top 50 DMAs without an interconnect. Now top market New York remains the lone holdout.

Mr. Fisher is making the rounds to advertisers with Cox Media’s VP of ad sales, Billy Farina, to pitch this point along with Cox’s “Reach in Ratings” program, using the latest research to illustrate how cable is beating broadcast in both frequency and reach. San Diego’s high penetration means that what is niche programming in other areas, such as Food Network’s prime-time lineup, competes directly with broadcast here. Weekends are also a strong selling point; then cable’s ratings compare even more favorably.

“We’re getting much more sophisticated in our thinking. Instead of saying we want a certain percentage of your inventory, we sit down with them and ask what demo they’re trying to target and how many points they’re trying to get to balance reach and frequency and harness the real power of these cable networks,” said Mr. Farina.

If an ad executive does want to talk percentages, however, Mr. Fisher is ready.

“Don’t give us the 5 percent or 10 percent you usually earmark for cable; give us a chance to compete head to head and we’ll be closer to 25 or 30 percent of what you spend,” Mr. Fisher said about his pitch. “That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.”

A border city, San Diego has long been known for its highly acculturated Hispanic community. Now, Cox Media’s sales reps have a new network to sell to: Mi TV, which was launched over the air April 8 by the NBC owned-and-operated station, KNSD-TV, and is carried on Cox digital. The channel features live Spanish-language Padres baseball telecasts.

Cox is also readying more content for FreeZone, its ad-supported VOD advertising service that debuted in San Diego three years ago. Viewers order up long-form advertorials on-demand from advertisers such as BMW, Best Buy and most recently, the Australian Tourism Board. The MSO is working to standardize measurements and rates for such services to make them a compelling component of national ad buys.

“We’re finding ways to create common standards and platforms so that advertisers can run targeted new media campaigns against multiple DMAs,” said David Porter, director of new media business development for Cox Media.