Representatives from ad agencies, reps and the cable industry have united to write the details for the implementation of electronic data interchange-the transfer of sales orders electronically.
EDI promises to reduce the mountainous paperwork in buying cable TV. That pledge represents not just a comforting thought to media buyers, but in the eyes of some observers, it's also marks the start of an era where EDI use in media buying will be the rule and not the exception.
"There's a paper jungle out there that is consuming both the buyer and the seller," says Howard Nass, senior VP-director of local broadcast, FCB/Leber Katz Partners, New York. "EDI should free us up to do what we're here for-that is, buying and selling."
EDI appears to be just what the doctor ordered for cable advertising. While cable presents one of the most targeted forms of TV advertising, the volume of paperwork involved makes it an expensive, difficult sell.
"I know there are agencies not buying cable because of the expensive overhead," says Ellen Weinstein, VP-sales and marketing, Advanced Media Systems, a division of cable rep NCC.
According to Don Stump, VP-network sales and marketing of the trade group Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau, the average cable network sells roughly 140,000 30-second spots each year.
Taken a step further, the average cable system airs more than 500,000 spots annually, says Bruce Ferguson, CAB's VP-local cable sales and marketing. Multiply that by the number of cable systems nationwide and one can visualize Mr. Nass' paperwork jungle.
But by streamlining the current system through electronic data transfer, which eliminates paperwork redundancies, reduces discrepancies and speeds up payments, the jungle begins to look more like a petting zoo.
"We're not changing the business process, we're changing the way we communicate with each other," says Helene Sperling, VP-systems and operations, TN Media, New York.
Observers say it will still be several months before EDI will really be up and running and handling transactions.
"We're hoping to see some prototyping come on by the fourth quarter of this year," says Carl Goodin, director of EDI services, Turner Broadcasting Sales.
Buyers and sellers stand to benefit from EDI in other ways.
"EDI is going to give cable networks better control of their inventory," says Marylouise White-Petteruti, VP-director, media systems for Leo Burnett USA, Chicago. "It is going to allow both agencies and cable networks, within seconds, to access the data that's in our computer systems."
These hopes are buoying the spirits of cable sellers.
Historically speaking, cable programming attracts 30% of the viewing public but only 20% of ad revenues.
"The $5 billion we do annually should be $7 billion," Mr. Stump says. "There's a huge opportunity and incentive for cable to get it together" by using EDI.
"People will see cable as the smartest media buy: highly professional, highly automated and highly documented," says Michael Bienstock, CAB's director of national spots.
According to some observers, these differences will further distinguish cable from other TV media.
"EDI will not go away," says Mr. Goodin, who predicts other TV media representatives will get involved with cable's current EDI implementation effort. "There's going to be a lot of work done in other media-magazines and so on-simply because it will automate and streamline" the advertising process.
Not surprisingly, representatives of other TV media aren't as upbeat over EDI's potential for cable.
Ave Butensky, president of Television Bureau of Advertising, doesn't believe EDI gives cable an advantage. He says EDI is advancing in all areas of TV advertising, though perhaps not as fast as in cable.
"EDI levels the playing field in terms of the paperwork-not in terms of value. The value remains the same," he says.
Mr. Nass agrees EDI will level the field but tends to see that as the advantage.
"It makes the process of buying and selling television time more efficient," he says. "It reduces the cost to buy and administrate television-and it reduces discrepancies."
Perhaps realizing this attitude, some TV media representatives are keeping an eye on the topic.
"Syndication, newspapers and everything else is moving to EDI," says Tim Duncan, exec director of Advertiser Syndicated Television Association. "Syndication is keeping pace with the industry on this. We expect to be there in the future, maybe two years from now."
"It's hard to say if cable will have an advantage over syndication since they're bought for different reasons," says Ms. White-Petteruti. "If most things are equal, we'll lean towards the [medium] that can get the message delivered. EDI gives us a stronger confidence that the message will get delivered."
Just the same, EDI's potential makes some observers wonder if other media will adopt the process.
"If EDI's good for cable, it's good for all the other media," Ms. White-Petteruti says.