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International: MTV: Close the cable gap

10-June-2002
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International: MTV: Close the cable gap

Coming off the ratings success of The Osbournes, MTV Networks executive vp of research and planning Betsy Frank is putting the finishing touches on a new study that asks agencies to rethink their cable buys during the 2002-2003 upfront.

Frank and cable sales executives seek to close the ever-expanding gap between cost-per-thousand-viewers rates for cable and broadcast by asking that media buyers not examine broadcast and cable as separate buys, but rather lay down dollars with networks that have the viewers they want.

Noting that cable viewership surpassed broadcast for the first time in a non-summer month in April, with a 49.2 share in prime compared to broadcast's 45.6, Frank said Nielsen's power index -- a ratio of viewership to share of ad dollars -- skews unfairly in broadcast's favor.

According to study, broadcast's share of ad revenue is 53 percent higher than its audience warrants at an index of 153, while cable gets 60 percent less than it should with an index of 40. The argument is further supported by the fact that all the "buzz" shows on TV this year are on cable. The Osbournes, FX's The Shield and TLC's Trading Spaces have all ranked among some broadcast shows.

Media buyers counter that there are just too many available gross ratings points for cable networks to command broadcast-network rates. Though cable's share of ad dollars may increase because of overall upfront volume, CPMs are expected to be down on several networks as spending continues to spread out over a growing number of networks and new services. The buyer noted as examples that FX has become more of a contender due to The Shield, Oxygen is growing, and Rainbow is adding commercial inventory on AMC and its new women-focused network, WE..

No upfront cable deals have been cut yet outside of cable nets being part of big multi-platform deals, such as OMD's pact with Disney that was expected to close late last week. OMD is also supposedly in talks to cut a cross-platform deal with AOL Time Warner, but agency executives said that no upfront buys will be as big as the $1 billion Disney deal.

Despite the naysayers, Frank believes that a very different kind of upfront could be around the corner. "The line between broadcast and cable dissolved for some advertisers [targeting kids] years ago," said Frank. Advertisers now consider all kids networks, broadcast and cable, together, and are "allocating their budgets based on who was delivering the kids. But why not the adult marketplace?"

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