MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON: CABLE AIRTIME SALES; Can Carlton make a success of the cable airtime market?

Carlton is transferring its sales clout into the cable sector, Alasdair Reid says

Carlton is transferring its sales clout into the cable sector, Alasdair

Reid says

Can ITV sales companies sell cable? Are they good for the medium?

Carlton UK Sales obviously thinks so. Last week it picked up contracts

for two cable stations - a juke-box music video station, the Box, and

the Travel Channel.

Carlton’s romance with cable began in January, when it acquired the

SelecTV channel. The sales operation it set up for SelecTV promptly won

the Live TV contract and it is also believed to be in talks with other

channels. Carlton seems determined to emerge as a major player in this


It has set up a specialist division, Carlton Cable and Satellite Sales.

With a staff of eight, it is still relatively small but, as its sales

director, David Sanderson, points out, it can plug into the resources of

its big brother.

‘We have access to a 40-strong research department and there are 15

people selling ITV who generate leads and give information we can react

to,’ he explains. ‘We know what’s coming up in campaign terms and we can

be closer to the planning phase in those campaigns. The problem for

cable in the past is that it has been a headache for agencies to book

such small channels. We can remove that confusion.’

No-one doubts the resources of Carlton UK Sales - especially its

research expertise - will become an increasingly important issue in

cable when the special Barb panel comes on line later this year. But are

resources everything?

ITV sales operations are notoriously bad at selling. Traditionally,

demand has far outstripped supply and the top ITV sales people have

concentrated on allocating airtime to clients in as fair a way as

possible while making sure they keep their books balanced.

Cable is a very different game indeed. It’s a buyers’ market and it

could be argued that the patrician approach adopted by many within ITV

will cut little ice. Sanderson argues that ITV has an enviable track

record in selling minority interest programming, but rival operations

say it isn’t that simple.

Richard Burdett, the vice-president of advertising sales for United

Artists Programming, has no doubts that Carlton is a powerful new force

in cable, but he suggests that to succeed the company will have to rise

to a number of challenges. ‘How it attempts to bring clients from

terrestrial to non-terrestrial television is crucial,’ he says. ‘Cable

and satellite channels have to be sold to clients. They require high

levels of servicing from experienced sales people.

‘The distribution that Carlton gets for its channels is vital. It

doesn’t matter how powerful your sales organisation is, you still need

ratings to sell. Otherwise all that’s left is the favours market and

that’s increasingly a thing of the past.’

Simon Cox, the broadcast director of CIA Medianetwork, says that Carlton

is good for cable and he hopes it picks up more stations. ‘Anything that

makes the cable sale less confusing is a good thing,’ he maintains. ‘It

is better to see one guy that has 5 per cent of the market than five

people who have a 1 per cent sell. Carlton understands the market.’

But perhaps all of this is rather academic. The bottom line surely is

that Carlton will be able to use its weight in the broadcast market as a

whole to twist a few arms at the big buying points.

Sanderson doesn’t see it that way. ‘Carlton Communications holds yearly

presentations on what is happening in the communications world and that

will obviously address how we see cable fitting into people’s plans,’ he

says. ‘We hope that agencies will listen to our views. But arm twisting

doesn’t work. Cable has to be sold on its merits.’

Cox agrees: ‘Conditional selling is a non-starter, especially where big

buying points are concerned.’