TV Upfront

Alphabet Soup: The CAB Is now the VAB as Cable Teams With Broadcast

Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau Rebrands, Adds Broadcast Members

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In an unprecedented show of solidarity, broadcasters and cable networks are taking steps to present a unified front in the advertising marketplace.

Effective today (Monday, May 18), the 25-year-old Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau will for the first time add representatives from the broadcast networks to its membership rolls. In keeping with its more inclusive mandate, the once cable-centric CAB has been outfitted with a much more platform-agnostic name: the Video Advertising Bureau.

The change comes on the heels of an Upfronts Week that was marked by an all-out assault on encroaching digital publishers and, in some cases, a studied avoidance of the word "television." (The preferred term during the NBCUniversal and Turner Broadcasting presentations appeared to be "premium video.")

While TV's kumbaya moment would appear to be a matter of circling the wagons against the digital horde, Joe Abruzzese said this isn't the case. "It's not a defensive measure," said the Discovery Networks ad sales president and inaugural co-chair of the VAB. "The goal, really, is to bring our shared resources together to help re-train advertisers to recognize the value of television."

"This is not an effort to fend off digital, but to put TV in perspective," Mr. Abruzzese added.

The reboot is a tacit acknowledgment that the distinctions between broadcast and cable TV are fundamentally irrelevant. Not only are viewers no longer discriminating between the two categories, but the divide simply no longer makes sense from a business standpoint. Three of the four major English-language networks (ABC, NBC and Fox) already had a seat at the CAB table, thanks to their affiliation with their respective sibling cable networks groups.

Moreover, the CAB seems to have accomplished much of what it set out to do when it was first established back in 1980. The fight to achieve pricing parity with broadcasters has largely been won, as scripted content developed by nets like FX, TNT and USA boast CPMs that are just as robust as those secured by the Big Four. And cable's dominance in the upfront is now old hat, as the ad-supported nets have out-earned broadcasters in the upfront in each of the last five or six years (depending on who's doing the counting).

TV commands the lion's share of overall audience deliveries, accounting for 140 hours, or 80%, of the 175 hours per month Americans devote to watching video. That's the sort of insight the VAB can bring to bear on the marketplace, said Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships at NBCUniversal.

"This is a giant leap forward in our being able to talk about the power of TV versus everything else that is going on out there," Ms. Yaccarino said. "It gives us a bigger, louder collective voice."

VAB members represent 110 broadcast and cable networks and the 11 largest cable/satellite/telco operators.

The marketplace has shown early enthusiasm for the new-look VAB, as media agencies were quick to endorse the organization. "The time has come for the TV industry to be represented holistically with the power of the content superseding the differences in distribution," said Rino Scanzoni, chief investment officer for Group M. "This will clearly advance the share of voice for the industry and support the initiatives that will provide incremental value to advertisers as technology, data and consumer choice change the dynamics of the medium."

Horizon Media President and CEO Bill Koenigsberg also praised the VAB, saying that a unified TV ecosystem can only benefit marketers.

Longtime CAB president and CEO Sean Cunningham will retain his title at the VAB, where he'll oversee efforts to provide marketers with research and insights on the impact of TV advertising. "Advertisers instinctively know this world-class video initiates the sales cycle," Mr. Cunningham said. "The VAB will lead the charge to prove it."

Of course, solidarity only runs so deep. In a few weeks, once clients' budgets have been registered, the all-for-one, one-for-all ethos will take a back seat to a more quotidian competitive mindset, as the networks battle for their slice of the $20 billion upfront pie. Until then, the networks are all in this together.