NEW ORLEANS — Turner Broadcasting has drawn up an elaborate blueprint designed to siphon off as much as $1 billion a year in primetime advertising revenues from the Big Four broadcast networks, funneling the cash into the coffers of 11 mass-circulation cable networks.
“We want to do nothing less than remake an entire industry,” said Steve Heyer, president of worldwide sales, marketing, distribution and international networks for the Turner Broadcasting System. Heyer was speaking at a press briefing on the second day of the National Cable Show here.Heyer and Turner’s executive VP for marketing and research Barry Fisher have created charts, graphs and tables that attempt to prove the 11 cable networks can give advertisers and their agencies the same audience reach as ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox in primetime — despite the fact that the broadcasters saturate 99% of U.S. homes and the big cable networks clear only about 70%.
Five of the cable networks in the study — TBS, TNT, CNN, Headline News and Cartoon Network — are owned by Turner’s parent company Time Warner. The other six are USA, Discovery, A&E, Lifetime, Nick at Nite and ESPN.
Rating the game
Using Nielsen Media research data from November 1995 and April 1996 (Turner couldn’t employ more re-cent numbers because the analysis took months to prepare), Fisher divided up all of the regularly scheduled broad-cast-network primetime series into three categories: highest-rated, middle-rated and lowest-rated.
For November 1995, the top third of network-primetime series averaged a surprisingly low 9.7 rating, but extracted a record price from advertisers of $190,000 for a 30-second spot. The middle-third series managed only a 6.0 aver-age rating, but pocketed $113,000, on average, for each 30-second advertisement. The numbers for the lowest third were a 3.8 average rating and a $65,000 average 30-second-spot rate.
“It’s ridiculous,” says Fisher. “Advertisers are constantly being told by the broadcast networks: ‘Our ratings have tanked, so we’ll have to charge you a 20% increase’ ” for a primetime :30.
Buying with blinders
The reason advertisers have gone along with what Heyer calls “buying the wrong stuff at the wrong price points” is that they convinced themselves there were no alternatives.
Until now, according to the Turner study. Heyer’s alternative focuses on the demographic categories of men, women and adults 18 to 49; and men, women and adults 25 to 54. The Turner presentation creates a model detail-ing the network primetime shows in November 1995 that an advertiser could have pulled money out of and reallo-cated to cable without losing any young adult viewers — and even saving some dollars in the process, because cable networks are cheaper to buy than the Big Four.
Almost all of the network shows on Turner’s hit list are from the middle-third and lower-third of the Nielsen rankings, because that’s the playing field where cable can match broadcast networks in the demos.
No major advertisers have yet reallocated broadcast money to cable based on Turner’s presentation. But Heyer says he’s confident that he’ll get his key message across that by embracing the cable alternative, advertisers will “get their costs under control and regain their leverage that they’ve surrendered to the broadcast networks.”