Cable execs: Ad sales climate improving

HRTS panel says scatter market is showing strength

At a gathering of six top cable executives, industry leaders expressed optimism Tuesday that the ad sales climate is improving -- though it still has a long way to go.

"The economy has kind of sucked the last couple years," MTV Networks president Van Toffler said. "But the good news is the scatter market is really robust. People wait a little longer than they have in the past, but we feel the money is coming in this quarter."

Toffler was at the Hollywood Radio & Television Society's annual cable chiefs luncheon, joined by Discovery COO Peter Liguori, Rainbow Media president and CEO Joshua Sapan, Turner president Steve Koonin, HBO programming president Michael Lombardo and NBC Universal Women and Lifestyle Entertainment Networks president Lauren Zalaznick.

Liguori and Zalaznick echoed Toffler's opinion on the strength of the scatter market.

"Scatter was way stronger than our upfront prices, and now the question is how far in advance do we see ad sales going," Liguori said. "It's clearly better than it was six months ago but down from where it was 24 months ago."

On the pay cable side, Lombardo was asked about the shrinking distribution windows for theatrical films, which still comprise about 70% of HBO's programming. Lombardo said he's convinced all the windows will continue to "coexist beautifully."

"On some of our plex-feeds, we see five-year-old films still getting enormous ratings," Lombardo said. "I don't think it's going to be an issue."

That said, HBO's biggest programming effort, its upcoming WWII miniseries "The Pacific," isn't expected to generate as much DVD sales as its blockbuster 2001 predecessor, "Band of Brothers."

"I'm not going to pretend we'll have the same DVD sales we saw with 'Band of Brothers,' but if it works for the brand and keeps people subscribing to HBO, that's the business we're in," Lombardo said.

In another programming note, Bravo's Zalaznick said the network's goal of adding scripted content is "in our sights" but said that finding the right material is a challenge for a network that relies on larger-than-life reality characters.

"We've just come to realize our biggest challenge with scripted is that anything that's kind of real -- which is key to making it based in reality ... to elicit drama -- we have such extreme versions of that in real characters (on reality shows)," she said. "It's very difficult to believe an actor playing a role when the lead-in is an extreme person playing that same role. What Bravo is looking for is a version of a world that doesn't really exist to be mapped in an aspirational way."

On MTV, Toffler expanded on the network's shift to focusing on younger millennial viewers, which played a role in shaping "Jersey Shore."

"Millennials are really about authentic reality and family," he said. "We played up the camaraderie and family elements (on 'Jersey Shore'). We're pushing Generation X out. We're slaves to our different audiences; for MTV, that's millennials, who are vastly different than Generation X; they're definitely less cynical, they're more civic minded."