Two veterans of the broadcast sales and research wars are trying to revolutionize the way advertisers buy time on cable networks.

Albert Crane, head of Crane Media Sales and former VP of primetime sales for CBS, and Paul Klein, president of PKO Prods. and former VP of programming for NBC, are moving on separate tracks as middlemen who’d package spots on every basic-cable network that would be willing to sell them ad units.

“We’d provide advertisers with one-stop shopping,” said Crane, who has bought out a defunct company called Cable One that packaged ad time on 14 cable networks back in 1988. “And our spots would be cheaper” than what an advertiser would pay to buy time on each of the networks separately.

Bargain rates

Klein says his subsidiary, called Network 20, would be able to offer advertisers such a low rate because most of the cable networks would be so happy to embrace a new national buyer for their spots that Klein would be able to get the time from them at bargain prices.

The top 15 or so cable networks are so vital to Klein’s scheme that he acknowledges Network 20 will have to pay them a bit more for their spots than they could get in the open market. But Klein’s data show that 40% of the audience for ad-supported cable as a category derives from networks that don’t pile up big audiences: The average Nielsen rating of these webs is a marginal 0. 4 or below. In 1993, only 13 networks chalked up a total-day rating that climbed above a 0.4, according to Turner Broadcasting research.

Crane and Klein say they’d both love to lock in a time period — say Friday in the first commercial break after 10 p.m. — and buy ad spots in that slot across about 40 cable networks, a purchase — called “roadblocking” in ad jargon — that would imitate as closely as possible the way an advertiser buys ABC’s ” 20/20″ or CBS’ “Picket Fences” in that day and time.

If all the cable networks were on board, the advertiser’s message would reach about 10 million cable households, which on many nights would give it a higher rating than whichever broadcast network is in third place.

This roadblocked cable buy would be similar to a broadcast-network buy, says marketing consultant Bill Sternberg, in that the advertiser would be paying only for audience delivery in a specific demographic category, even if it came to only a relatively small portion of the 10 million households.

“It’s do-able,” said Bill Croasdale, president of national broadcast for Western Intl. Media. “But I think the big networks are going to carry a pretty steep price” to middlemen like Crane and Klein.

Andy Picone, senior VP and associate media director for Warwick, Baker, Fiore , says the packaging of cable network spots may have rough sledding because ad agencies themselves are constantly putting together multi-cable buys for their clients. Rather than having to buy two dozen networks (as part of a Crane/Klein package) that don’t fit the demo his client wants to reach, Picone says he’d be more inclined to continue buying just the five or six webs that’d fit the particular demo profile.

Calling all blue chips

And “a blue-chip advertiser is going to have to be a part of the pitch” because “cable networks are not so starving for business” that they’d sell their spots to a middleman for resale to clients unknown, according to Picone.

A spokesman for John Silvestri, executive VP of ad sales for the USA network, confirms Picone’s analysis, saying that USA would not even return phone calls unless a middleman had written approval from a recognized advertiser. Neither Crane nor Klein has signed any advertisers yet. But both men say they’re planning to be in operation by the third quarter of 1994, with Crane even projecting a billing number in the first year of between $ 6 and $ 10 million.

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