Spurred by a resurgence in automotive spend and ongoing refinements of its targeting efforts, Comcast’s local ad sales unit enjoyed a strong first quarter, posting $360 million in revenue, a gain of 23 percent versus the prior-year period ($292 million).
According to Charlie Thurston, president of Comcast Spotlight, auto dollars were up 58 percent in Q1 ‘10, as the unit’s cooperative efforts with dealer associations and independents bore fruit. “When budgets were down, we worked closely with them to get their messages to the best prospects,” Thurston said. “By hyper-targeting dealer ads, we ensured that we got a bigger share of their business.”
For example, Spotlight’s Adcopy application allows the client to differentiate its spot load based on the desired target audience. An automaker may choose to send a spot for a high-end model to a more affluent zip code, while simultaneously running an ad for a moderately-priced vehicle to a less upscale zone within the same market. “You’re getting your messages to the best prospects without having to undermine your overall brand campaign,” Thurston said.
Auto accounts for the greatest percentage of Comcast’s local ad sales business. Other leading categories also bounced back in the quarter, as tune-in dollars increased 45 percent versus the year-ago period, while food and beverage improved by 39 percent.
Along with the scale that comes with serving 95 of the nation’s 210 DMAs, Spotlight’s market segmentation products give it a leg up in the fiercely competitive local media space. According to Thurston, Comcast’s share of local TV dollars is 20 percent greater than its broadcast rivals.
Looking ahead, Thurston anticipates a robust year for political spend. Six years ago, Spotlight claimed a 5 percent share of political dollars its markets; for 2010, the company is gunning for 25 percent of the pie.
“Ninety-eight percent of winning political campaigns last year bought spot cable,” Thurston said. “It’s gone from being a nice option on a handful of campaigns to being the main thrust in city and state elections.”
California’s gubernatorial race is already generating something of a windfall for Comcast. Thurston said that Republican candidate Meg Whitman in Q1 spent $5 million on targeted RFI spots that appeared in Monterey, Fresno, Sacramento and San Francisco.
While Spotlight’s big gains came off a debased 2009 market, the strength it demonstrated in the first three months of this year may best be understood in light of a more distant earnings period. Per adjusted earnings figures, Spotlight in Q1 ’08 accumulated $379 million in ad revenue, or just 5 percent more than it locked up in Q1 of this year.