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Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln Mercury division is considering shifting the bulk of its TV budget from national broadcast to cable during the next year.

The move could boost the auto marketer's cable spending to as much as $70 million, essentially quadrupling what it spent on the medium last year.

That's the word from several broadcast and cable TV executives, who are either elated or crestfallen depending upon where on the TV dial they sit.


"We have not made any decisions on our spending yet," said Dave Ropes, Ford's director of corporate advertising and integrated marketing.

He said the automaker is a few weeks away from making those decisions and that any shift in buying recommendations made for a division would be thoroughly debated before being finalized.

Y&R Advertising, Detroit, which handles media planning for Lincoln Mercury, is said to still be debating recommending a major shift to cable as part of the media plan it will submit to Ford.

Last year, Lincoln Mercury spent $18 million on national cable and $81 million on national broadcast, according to Competitive Media Reporting. In 1996, those figures were $14 million and $80 million, respectively, according to CMR.


As the upfront TV marketplace is expected to break in earnest over the next few weeks, broadcast network executives have been fretting that automakers, especially domestic ones, might be spending less on ads this year.

Another concern broadcasters have is that the increasing use of optimizers -- software programs that can help agencies buy more efficiently -- will lead to money shifting to cable.

But one executive familiar with the Lincoln Mercury discussion said it was not prompted by the use of optimizers.

Even without optimizers, buying is getting much more sophisticated. For example, Turner Broadcasting Sales has been promoting a plan that urges advertisers and agencies to replace the lowest-rated broadcast shows on their buys with cable programming, claiming that strategy will not interfere with traditional reach-and-frequency goals.

Now, a number of cable network executives said, New-York based TeleVest has extended that theory, telling the largest cable networks it doesn't want to buy their lowest rated shows, and instead will use smaller networks, such as the Food Network, in their place. TeleVest executives had no comment.

Also on the cable front, a formal deal was near last week between USA Networks and Leo Burnett Co.'s Starcom Media Services, Chicago. Both companies earlier had denied a report Starcom had put down $25 million to $35 million on USA at cost-per-thousand increases of 4% to 5%. (AA, May 11).


An executive claiming knowledge of the negotiations said those terms had been essentially agreed to, but the deal fell apart after the cable network demanded the agency make additional buys at higher CPMs. The deal's collapse is said to have happened after Ad Age's deadline for the original story.

A USA Networks spokeswoman said: "Negotiations with Leo Burnett's Starcom were just beginning two weeks ago, and Advertising Age's announcement of a completed deal was premature. . . . No deal has yet been formalized with Leo Burnett, however we are now in serious negotiations."

A number of media buyers and sellers said they expect a few dayparts to break this week, notably broadcast network early morning and daytime.

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