Broadcast, Cable Networks Join Together In Single Group To Promote TV Advertising

TV viewers make little distinction between broadcast and cable television, and now, in the future, so too will advertisers.

CBS, NBC,  the CW and ABC have joined a trade group once devoted to promoting cable TV to Madison Avenue. As such, the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau, which has for years played a large role in touting cable TV’s ability to deliver ad messages effectively to marketers, will now be known as the Video Advertising Bureau.

“Our charter really was cable,” explained Sean Cunningham, chief executive of the group, in an interview. In 2015, however, he said, “there’s never been less” of a difference perceived by advertisers when it comes to analyzing TNT or MTV and CBS or NBC. Marketers, he added, are more interested in “premium content” that is of high quality and is distributed widely.

The move places a spotlight on the effect the rise of streaming video has had on the media industry. For decades, cable pitched itself as an alternative to the higher ad prices charged by broadcast networks, while broadcast networks touted their ability to reach the biggest audiences possible. The rise of a host of new-media options – everything ranging from new video series presented on Snapchat to high-profile efforts from Hulu, Yahoo and AOL – has given new options to consumers, while placing pressure on traditional purveyors of TV programming.

Even as new rivals surface, so-called “traditional” TV content is gaining new – if unmeasured – traction in on-demand video that is streamed digitally. The new organization is likely to make the case for the broader of its members’ content. According to a 2014 study from researcher GfK, for example, TV content accounts for 88% of all streaming activity in the U.S.

The new alliance suggests the media industry is “getting smarter and smarter and more progressive about how we talk about our content,” said Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships at NBCUniversal, in an interview. The new VAB is likely to tackle such issues as viewability – how much of a piece of video is actually seen by consumers when they watch it via digital means – and advertising fraud – how much of the traffic ascribed to a particular piece of content is verifiable – she said.

The broader alliance comes a year after both broadcast and cable captured fewer advance advertising commitments in the annual “upfront” market, when they try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming cycle. Advance ad commitments for broadcast TV totaled between $8.17 billion and $8.94 billion for the most recent broadcast primetime schedule, according to Variety estimates, compared with between $8.6 billion and $9.2 billion in 2013. National cable networks secured $9.6 billion in advance advertising commitments, according to Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau, representing a 6% reduction, or about $577 million, in outlays from the $10.2 billion earmarked for cable networks for the 2013-2014 season.

Many of the companies that own broadcast networks – including Walt Disney, Comcast and 21st Century Fox – were already VAB members.  By enlisting broadcast networks to its ranks, the VAB presumably will collect a larger amount of membership fees that will help it commission more research and make additional outreach in its quest to promote its members.

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