CAB Touts Another Killer Year for Cable

Ad-supported nets take in $22.1 billion in ad sales revenue

It was another banner year for the national cable networks, as overall ad sales in 2011 surpassed the $22 billion mark.

Having crunched the numbers for all ad-supported cable nets, the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau reported a total haul of $22.1 billion in sales revenue, marking an 8 percent increase from $20.5 billion in 2010.

On a percentile basis, last year’s performance was one of the strongest since 2007. Only 2010 was a bigger growth year, as overall cable ad sales revenue jumped 10 percent versus $18.7 billion in the “correction year” that was 2009.

Undoubtedly, the additional $1.6 billion in dollar volume was a function of an improving general economy and the most robust upfront in cable history. Over the course of the 2011-12 bazaar, the cable nets raked in $9.3 billion in early commitments, a 16 percent year-over-year increase.

Last year marked the first time national cable took in more upfront dollars than broadcast. The networks took in some $9.2 billion in upfront sales, bettering their year-ago haul by 8 percent. CBS enjoyed the most lucrative sell-off, bringing in $2.7 billion in prime-time commitments, on an average CPM increase of 14 percent.

When Spanish-language media and an estimated $2.4 billion in syndication dollars were thrown into the kitty, the total upfront take for the 2011-12 season added up to around $23.2 billion.

“In staying close to agencies and advertisers…we knew cable’s role as [a] primary driver in the media plan and marketing mix would increase to new heights,” said Sean Cunningham, CEO and president of the CAB.

Cable will continue to be a high-value proposition as long as the networks keep delivering must-see original content. AMC and FX alone account for some of the most critically acclaimed dramas on the tube, churning out a roster that includes Breaking Bad, Mad Men and The Walking Dead (AMC); and Justified, American Horror Story and Sons of Anarchy (FX). 

On the other side of the fence, broadcast has struggled to find a new hit at 10 pm. The bulk of the new dramas unleashed in the 2011-12 broadcast season—a roster that includes Pan Am, The Playboy Club and Prime Suspect—have flopped.

And scripted series aren’t the only drivers. Cable also continues to grow on the strength of sports, kids and movie programming.

Of course, the inherent efficiencies of cable also have gone a long way toward stealing share from the broadcast nets. On a CPM basis, prime-time inventory on a top 20 cable network costs about one-third as much as that on the broadcast nets.