The Weakness of Cable TV in Billings

One of the 20+ sources of marketing to discuss is cable TV. The service is praised for its low cost and ability to target audiences with a laser like focus. Plus it has video as a big advantage. What could possibly be wrong with buying cable TV to market your product? You are getting TV for only a fraction of the cost of regular network television.

Be careful where you spend your money with cable. It can be the single most expensive and ineffective buy you will ever make.

There are exceptions to that of course. Using cable TV similarly to the way one might use network TV is one of the most expensive uses of media.

Let’s break down why.

In Billings, 36 channels can have local inserts. This doesn’t include the network affiliates CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox.  I’m using Bresnan/Optimum rather than Century Link.  Really, I almost didn’t remember Century Link was in business.

There are a total of 40 stations in the market that can carry local TV ads.

This compares with 17 local radio stations.

Using the 80/20 rule, the Pareto Principle, the vast majority of TV viewing (80%) is to 20% of the channels..or 8 of the 40 channels get 80% of viewership. There is a slight flaw in that assumption. There are clearly MORE than 40 channels you could watch with cable TV in Billings. For marketing purposes, only 40 matter. My analysis OVERSTATES the amount of cable TV watching and the amount of viewers that could possibly be on a given station.  Keep that in mind as I go through the numbers.

Comparing the top 4 cable stations to the top 4 network stations, 77% of all viewing is to network TV.  Those are numbers from Neilsen, the statistician of television viewing in the U.S.

In most every market in America-Billings is no exception, network affiliation exceeds all cable watching, so we can deduct 4 channels from the list of the 8 most watched.

That leaves us with 4 cable channels with substantive viewership out of 36 available in the market.

Optimum cable only has 27% of the Billings households currently wired (as compared to 100% of radio coverage for example)

There are 52,084 estimated households in Billings (city-data; Wikipedia)

Using the 27% number, there are 14,062 households with Optimum cable. In those households, 80 percent of the viewing is to 4 cable channels and 4 over the air TV channels.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average home has the TV on 2.7 hours per day or 162 minutes per day.  That seems a little low, so you might boost the number by 100% and make it 5.4 hours per day.  If you think that’s more likely how people behave in the real world, then also double the estimates that follow.

Nielson estimates 77% of the viewing of television programming goes to network TV. That means network TV gets 124 minutes of the viewing time in an average household, leaving cable stations with 38 minutes to divide between 36 channels in a day.

Using the Pareto Principle again, the top 4 cable stations (USA, DSNY, TNT, and HIST) get 80% of that 38 minutes, or 28 minutes per day. 7 minutes on average per channel.

The 32 “least watched” cable stations split 10 minutes per day among them–averaging less than 1 minute per household per day.

And I didn’t even raise the question of digital video recorders which can account for 20% of viewing in the market. DVR’s are built to do two things. Time shift programs and skip commercials.

Cable TV can be a great buy provided your targeting is razor sharp and you are certain who you are trying to reach with your marketing. A broad age demo is not the best way to use cable. You want to use the product like you would use a specialized magazine. Saturate a particular channel for best results.

Another tip on using cable TV, ask your customers what THEY watch. Chances are exceptional it won’t be what you think it is.

While cable is cheap to buy, it can be like the proverbial tree falling in the forest with no one around. It doesn’t make a sound.

If no one sees your ad—did it really matter how cheap it was?


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