Cable tunes in to RAB-style voice

As cable seeks a clearer voice to boost its interests, Meg Carter looks into the viability of a RAB-style body

The success of the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB) has prompted a number of media owners in the poster industry, newspaper publishing and ITV to consider if a similar media marketing operation would benefit their share of ad revenue.

Now it’s the turn of the cable industry, which is planning to restructure its own trade body, the Cable Communications Association (CCA), into a restyled operation under a new chief executive and with a brief not far removed from that of the RAB.

The CCA, launched in 1986, plans to evolve from a trade organisation into a combined trade association and marketing operation. Earlier this year, it appointed a marketing director – Mike Hayes from Nintendo. Since then, speculation has been growing about plans for a generic consumer marketing campaign.

But co-ordinating cable is likely to be increasingly difficult, despite the universally-accepted need for it to market itself better and invest in better research methodology. One reason for this is the recent deals struck by TeleWest and Nynex with BSkyB, which have divided cable operators (MW June 7). Another is the prospect of mergers and acquisitions as the larger groups vie for market dominance.

Against this turbulent backdrop, the CCA is eager to promote the interests of the industry as a whole. And despite inter-company rivalries, the industry is moving forward.

The Independent Television Commission’s latest figures show UK cable TV is generating revenues of about 230m a year, based on the average subscriber paying 23.32 per month. By April 1, 1995 there were 963,000 UK cable subscribers (a rise from 642,000 a year ago).

But not everyone is convinced that a “CAB” could work as successfully as the RAB. One agency media director says: “While there is undoubtedly a need to market cable better, the industry seems to be in too great a state of flux.”

One cable source notes that: “A ‘CAB’ would prove invaluable. However, I’m not sure if this could be effectively combined with the CCA’s other role, namely as trade body. There are many complex vested interests.”

RAB managing director Douglas McArthur views such developments with a wry smile: “It’s all very flattering. But I’m not sure that either cable, posters or other TV have got the plot. The RAB works because it is customer-focused, the industry focus is handled by a separate body – the Association of Independent Radio Contractors. If we had to service radio companies as well as advertisers we could never keep the staff pointing in the right direction”.

The RAB’s launch coincided with improved research – Rajar – and commercial radio services in the form of national stations. There was an ignorance about radio which needed to be overcome. The coincidence of these factors contributed to the subsequent rise in commercial radio’s ad revenue, claims McArthur.

Even so, the cable industry needs a clearer voice to increase viewers and boost its advertising base. For too long it has relied on local operators’ activities and, more recently, the individual efforts of channel providers. How it will move on will become apparent in coming months.

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