Mr. Ostrow says the increase underscores the importance of that business to cable TV.
NIMA International, which represents the infomercial industry, estimates that between $450 million and $550 million is spent in media for the airing of these long-form, largely direct response vehicles, and about 60% of that goes to cable.
CASH REGISTER IS RINGING
"[This is a] place where there are no ifs, and or buts about success," says Mr. Ostrow. "Direct marketers will try anything once, but when they come back to a medium, it means the cash register is ringing."
Some direct-response efforts tie together retailers and TV direct-response marketers, such as market leader Guthie Renker. In addition, some traditional mass-media advertisers are using direct response TV to drive viewers to place an order on the Internet, or at least to visit a website for more information.
"One would have to have no imagination at all, if they didn't see there would have to be more partnering between advertisers and the distribution," says Mr. Ostrow.
Recent infomercials by leading national advertisers include those of Philips Electronics and Toshiba America for their digital video disc players and Eastman Kodak Co. for its DC-210 digital camera.
Between 30 and 40 advertisers of branded products broke new infomercials this year -- about the same number as last year.
UPSCALE PRODUCTS SELL
"There has been a slowdown of general advertisers moving into infomercials because long-form is not for everyone. It's basically owning up to its original intent: high-ticket items that need a lot of explanation," says Richard Sangerman, senior VP-client services at agency A. Eicoff & Co., Chicago.
"You have to be an advertiser that has an expensive product with back-end sales opportunities [that] lends itself to a detailed explanation," notes Mr. Sangerman.
Some of the more successful infomercials on cable include one for Toyota Motor Sales USA's Lexus, called "Luxury for Less," and another for Philips' Magnavox WebTV.
The "Luxury for less" infomercial aired on cable from 1995 through earlier this year. Lexus has not ruled out the possibility of a second infomercial.
The original program touted the Lexus certified preowned-car program, says Marv Ingram, national certified preowned/fleet manager. It targeted potential buyers in vehicles priced from $25,000 to $40,000. In its limited '97 run alone, the 800-number given to consumers via the infomercial handled about 55,000 calls, says Mr. Ingram.
LEXUS LIKES RESULTS
Mr. Ingram says that, surprisingly, 40% of those who visited the dealership after viewing the infomercial bought new Lexus cars -- instead of used cars.
Team One, El Segundo, Calif., is the agency for Lexus and its dealers, but parent Saatchi &*Saatchi's Hudson Street Partners, New York, handled the infomercial.
In general, Mr. Ingram says infomercials are the best way to go for advertisers with limited media budgets -- and airing them on cable TV is a necessity.
"When you are talking about airing an infomercial 114 times over a two-and-a-half-month period, you have to use cable. It is cost prohibitive to go on national network," says Mr. Ingram.
Philips is another advertiser that has achieved success with infomercials. Its WebTV infomercial, "Metaphors" is still running. The infomercial helped increase sales of the product originally introduced a year ago through retail channels, says Mike Keel, VP-sales and marketing at Philips.
"The infomercial has been a moneymaker as far as stand-alone sales and has been driving retail like crazy," says Tim O'Leary, president at TV Tyee, Portland, Ore. TV Tyee produced "Metaphors."
Philips has a new infomercial, also via TV Tyee, out now to tout its DVD player. The program includes an appearance by film director Spike Lee discussing the superior movie-like experience a viewer can have at home via DVD.
"We utilize him to make a comment about the validity and quality of DVD," says Mr. Keel.
Messner Vettere Berger McNammee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York, is agency of record for Philips North America.
Whether or not all advertisers are ready for infomercials, consumers say they are ready for electronic shopping.
According to NIMA, a survey conducted for the association by Opinion Strategies shows that nearly half of those surveyed agreed the smart shopper of the future would purchase more through electronic and online services.
Mr. O'Leary says he believes the Web as a destination is a strong trend for direct-response TV.
THE FUTURE IS HERE
Eicoff's Mr. Sangerman says he's seeing the future come to light.
"It's all moving towards measurement," he says. "Every day, there is a general advertising client who has a new mandate regarding this. One of the first places they feel comfortable is cable, because they are narrowcasting to a degree.
"The bad news is [that this] creates a tight environment for all direct-response TV advertisers on cable. What will solve the problem is the continued proliferation of cable systems. As general advertising dollars shift to cable, obviously [broadcast] networks suffer, and the pie is bigger for cable systems