Cable TV Advertising: Benefits, Costs, Comparisons, and More

Jun 1, 2023
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Traditional pay TV may be on the decline, but with the right tools, a good cable TV advertising campaign can still entice new customers.

An effective cable TV advertising campaign can still reach about half of all American households

If you're going to spend money on cable TV advertising, you might want to do so sooner rather than later. The number of Americans subscribing to either cable or satellite TV has been in steady decline for the past decade; nearly 20 million households have abandoned linear pay TV in just the past three years.

However, if you consider the issue from the flip side, it's not quite so bleak. Half of American households don't have cable or satellite TV subscriptions — but that means that the other half still do. A well-placed cable TV advertisement could reach a significant chunk of the 65 million customers who haven't yet cut the cord.

Commercials on traditional pay TV can offer other benefits as well. Cable TV advertising rates tend to be much more reasonable than their broadcast counterparts. You can also reach a much more focused audience by matching your product with a specific channel's demographics. Read on to learn whether your company might benefit from a well-placed ad on pay TV.

Check out our comprehensive guide, "Advertising on Television: Everything You Need to Know About the TV Medium" for even more helpful resources.

What is Cable TV Advertising?

Cable TV advertising is television commercials that are shown on cable television channels, as opposed to network broadcasts. While cable and satellite providers charge monthly subscription fees, they also make money by selling ad space, just as local broadcast networks do. As such, the average cable viewer has to sit through somewhere between 16 and 18 minutes of commercials for every hour in front of the TV.

While cable TV doesn't have the same cultural cachet that it did back in the '90s and early 2000s, it does still offer a few advantages over the alternatives. Compared to broadcast TV, cable TV ads are much cheaper, and can reach a more specific target audience. Compared to CTV and OTT, cable TV ads can more easily target live events, particularly sports and newscasts.

Types of Cable TV Advertising

There are two basic types of cable TV advertising: "spot" and "network." The former is generally cheaper and region-specific; the latter is generally more expensive but can target customers nationwide.

Marketers can purchase cable "spots" from regional cable providers, such as Comcast, Verizon or Cox. These commercials don't air on any specific channel; rather, they can appear on any channel that the provider offers. Spots are useful if your business operates in a particular region, or if your commercial has a local flavor that outsiders might not recognize.

To buy a "network" ad, on the other hand, you'll have to deal directly with a cable channel, such as ESPN or TBS. These ads will air wherever the cable channel is available, but generally only on a single channel. As such, network ads work best if your product targets a specific type of viewer, but is available nationally.

Some local stations also let you purchase space in a "crawl" that plays at the bottom of the screen, such as MCTV's Weather Channel in Wooster, OH. It's a relatively uncommon option, but it's also one of the least expensive ways to get your company's name on a cable channel.

Cable TV Advertising Rates

One of the biggest advantages of cable TV advertising is that it doesn't cost a whole lot, particularly compared to broadcast stations. While an ad campaign during Sunday Night Football could cost more than $800,000, cable spots can cost anywhere between $5 and $500. Rates for network ads are highly variable and much harder to come by, but they don't cost nearly as much as broadcast ads, simply because the potential reach is so much smaller.

If you want to advertise on cable TV, your best bet is to call a provider and negotiate with a rep directly. There's no special trick to getting the best rate; it's simply a matter of deciding when and how your ad will have the most impact. For example, shorter ads are cheaper than longer ones, and ads that air during primetime TV are more expensive than ones that air in the middle of the night. Determine who your target audience is, what programs they're likely to watch, and how long you need to keep their attention, and use that data when negotiating a rate.

While securing airtime for your ad may not be that expensive, creating the ad can be. There's no hard data on how much the "average" commercial costs, but video firm Beverly Boy Productions estimates that it could be anywhere between $1,500 and $150,000. Commercials with still photos and a single voiceover track might cost less than $1,000; commercials with multiple cameras and dozens of cast members could cost more than $10,000.

Create an Effective Cable TV Advertising Campaign

Creating an effective cable TV commercial employs the same basic principles as creating an effective broadcast or CTV commercial. According to the Nashville Film Institute, there are a variety of techniques to capture an audience's attention. Perhaps the most important one is a "call to action," which gives the potential customer clear instructions on what to do once the commercial is done. ("Call now," for example, or "stop into one of our stores.") Other techniques include memorable taglines, punchy stories, and tonal consistency with your brand's identity.

There are a few common pitfalls to avoid when creating a cable TV ad as well. For example, if you don't create a cohesive storyboard in advance, you may not discover that you've missed a critical shot or line of dialogue until after the production team has packed up and gone home. If your commercial runs longer than your allotted time slot, the ending will get cut off, likely along with any important contact info.

Keep reading for more tips, or download a free copy of The CTV Advertising Playbook for in-depth advice.

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You'll also want to research your audience demographics and make sure that you're putting your ad in front of the right viewers. Nielsen is still the gold standard in this field, as it has been gathering data and analyzing TV viewers' habits since the 1950s. The company offers a variety of different demographic analyses so that you can learn who's likely to watch your content, and when.

Determining whether a cable TV advertising campaign was worthwhile is also relatively simple. After the advertisement has aired consistently for a few weeks, calculate how much money your company has earned in that time frame, and compare it to how much money your company earned beforehand. If the amount of money earned exceeds the commercial's cost, then it was likely an effective campaign. If your revenue has remained consistent or declined, or if the commercial cost more money than it brought in, then the campaign was probably not effective.

Cable TV Advertising Outlook

For the moment, creating a cable TV ad is still a potentially worthwhile investment. You could reach up to half of American households, and don't have to spend a ton of money to do so.

However, it's worth remembering that cable subscriptions are on the decline, and that trend is probably not going to reverse anytime soon. Before creating a commercial, it's best to do some research in the CTV space as well, and weigh your options accordingly. And if you decide to go the CTV route, then tvScientific can help.