30 seconds in doubt

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The cabletelevision Advertising Bureau's 18th annual conference held March 23 in New York drew a capacity crowd with the theme: "Evolution. Revolution. New Solutions." The highlights included an audience response session and a forum on new technologies.

Billed as a "Socratic dialogue," the session was hosted by Harvard Law Professor Arthur Miller, who strutted across the stage at the Grand Hyatt Hotel like a seasoned TV game-show host. He grilled 11 guests including Rich Hamilton, CEO of Zenith Media, New York; David Verklin, president of Carat USA, New York; and Johnathan Rodgers, president of Discovery Networks, as their faces were projected digitally on two huge screens on the stage.

"Let's just say, for argument's sake, that interactivity in television is a go," Mr. Miller postulated. "Does that mean you have a piece of the pie?" Echoing the sentiments of the other panelists, Mr. Rodgers immediately shot back a confident: "Yes, we have a piece of the pie."


Forum panelists addressed such hot-button issues as HDTV in advertising, broadband and the end of the traditional cable spot as we know it. The latter notion, suggested by Mr. Verklin, provoked a chorus of nays from the other panelists.

"Thirty-second commercials on cable will die in the future," said Mr. Verklin, who pointed out that the demand for immediate, fast advertising content on cable will spearhead a new, leaner approach to commercials, with more spots targeting more defined markets. "The $30,000 spot will be the future of advertising," Mr. Verklin predicts. He also suggested that to keep up with the demand, media agencies will replace traditional creative agencies in producing the new advertising.

Mr. Verklin said afterward: "A lot of the full-service agencies don't want to hear it or don't want to discuss it, but where are we going to get high-volume, high-quality, low-cost broadband content? [Spots in the future] will be more like banner ads. You produce a lot of different ads and are constantly evaluating the way they work. You're tweaking them and creating new copy for specific groups. Is our industry ready to do that? I don't think so."


Mr. Hamilton, like most of the panelists, did not cotton to Mr. Verklin's vision. "I find it hard to believe there will be a need for 40 spots a month selling toilet paper and toothpaste," Mr. Hamilton said.

Later, using wireless keypads, the audience voted on pressing issues facing the cable advertising industry. A sample question: "How much longer will the dot.com media spending boom last?" Forty-three percent of the audience said 1-to-5 years. Twenty-eight percent responded, "Forever, please God."

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