Benefit From TV's Changing Landscape

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Nothing is forever.

Not war. Not peace. Not direct marketing.

Quills are replaced by pens, which are replaced by typewriters, which are replaced by word processors, which are replaced by computers. Each was heralded as a breakthrough. Each was superseded by something newer, better and faster.

The changes in direct marketing, in direct response television, have been equally swift, dramatic and far-reaching.

Television's fragmentation continues at an accelerated rate. Where there were three television networks, there are now six. In cable, where TBS and ESPN once stood alone, virtually unwatched, literally begging for advertising revenue, there are now more than 45 cable networks viewed by tens of millions of Americans daily. Some virtually ignore DRTV; others, the smaller, newer ones, are begging for ad revenue of any sort, even DRTV.

Where there were 400-odd television stations, there are now 1,200, perhaps more, but I have long since stopped counting. Where the term interconnect was unknown, there are now hundreds of local interconnects, and these figures climb steadily, inexorably.

In Boston, where there once were four television stations, each limited to 12 minutes of commercial time per hour, there are now nine stations each clearing 15 minutes or more an hour. Commercial inventory in that market rose from 48 minutes an hour to 135. That is a whopping increase of 87 commercial minutes per hour, 2,088 per day, 14,616 per week, 438,480 per month, 5,261,760 ... you get the idea.

And that's just Boston.

As a consequence of this proliferation of commercial time and the recent cutback in television spending by the dot-coms, DRTV offers a greatly increased potential for direct marketers. Television stations and cable networks have large inventories of unsold time and are more amenable to "deals," the kinds of deals that DRTV thrives on, the deals so scant in recent years.

During a recent visit we asked a visiting station manager the inevitable, "How's business?"

"Couldn't be better. We're 17 percent ahead of budget, 18 percent ahead of last year. Couldn't be better."

Some more polite conversation, then "Got any money for our market? We do have some DRTV time open."

"In the fourth quarter?"

"Well, we do have some limited avails. Yes, in the fourth quarter."

By the time the station guy left, we placed buys for more than $200,000 with him, slashing the price for daytime from $400 for a 120-second spot to $225, and the price for prime access had been slashed from $800 to $500.

And that's in the fourth quarter, normally an extremely tight quarter, on a strong station, one that is doing well and is "17 percent ahead of budget."

So if you are considering DRTV or are interested in making DRTV work, now is the time even if it hasn't worked in the past. Station inventory has never been higher, rates have never been better.

Outside of a great offer, what more do you need?

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