The trade group’s chairman, Mike Fiorile, talks about some TVB initiatives and what other broadcast sales pros are talking about these days, including programmatic selling, the turbulent rep business and the changing nature of broadcast sales.
TVB is will present its annual Forward Conference at New York’s iconic Waldorf-Astoria a week from this Thursday (Sept. 17) and joining TVB President Steve Lanzano in welcoming the hundreds of broadcasters, researchers, analysts and media buyers will be Mike Fiorile.
Fiorile is the current chairman of TVB, but that is just one of the many hats he wears. His day job is running the Dispatch Broadcast Group, which now comprises WBNS-AM-FM-TV and the Ohio News Network in Columbus, and WTHR-WALV-CD Indianapolis. His other board duties include the CBS affiliates, Television Operators Caucus, BMI, NAB and the Broadcasters Foundation of America.
In this interview with TVNewsCheck Editor Harry A. Jessell, Fiorile talks about some TVB initiatives and what other broadcast sales pros are talking about these days, including programmatic selling, the turbulent rep business and the changing nature of broadcast sales.
An edited transcript:
TVB has made a couple of interesting moves lately. It hired an auto advertising specialist and then a PR firm in Washington. What is the thinking behind the moves?
Automotive is a big part of a local television station’s revenue, has been for a long time. We think it will be for the foreseeable future. So focusing on that is important. I understand that the co-op programs at the automobile manufacturers this year for the first time are beginning to exclude newspaper advertising as proof of their continued appreciation for spot and network TV.
Did TVB have anything to do with that?
No, but having been in the newspaper business I was made aware of it about six months ago. No more co-op in this paper.
I guess you don’t want spot to someday be cut out, too.
I don’t see that happening frankly. Our spending in automotive is up.
When you say ours, you mean Dispatch?
Yes, our local stations.
Auto should be up for everybody. It’s a boom year for car sales. What specifically is TVB doing to make sure the auto dollars don’t start drifting away?
We go into local markets, we make presentations to advertisers, including local dealers, about what television can do for them and they [broadcasters] end up leaving some of these local presentations with commitments.
TVB now seems more focused on helping broadcasters with their local sales.
The board asked the staff to get more active in creating new business in local markets.
And what about the political PR firm in Washington? What’s that say?
The thinking there is that certainly the digital piece of political has grown, as has all of digital advertising, and that has gotten a lot of press. Be that as it may, broadcast still gets a majority of the political dollars and we thought we could do a better job of talking about that.
As you look at political today or let’s say in 2016, what’s the bigger threat, digital or cable, the old nemesis or the new one?
I don’t think cable is as much of a threat. Digital is growing at a faster rate.
There was a lot of talk following the last Obama campaign about how it redirected money into cable using Big Data sort of to identify and target likely voters. That doesn’t worry you much?
No. I don’t see it growing. The percentage of growth is not what it is in digital. I mean we certainly share some of the mass market dollars with cable, but I don’t see it growing.
When you say digital, what are you talking about exactly? Are you talking about search? Are you talking about digital video?
All of the above, search, social media, Web ads. Our company is already getting orders for our websites for 2016.
Last year at the TVB conference, Tegna President Dave Lougee said that it’s time for broadcasters to embrace programmatic selling. Is that happening?
We are still investigating for lack of a better word. We are paying attention to it. I don’t think there is any major initiative under way or being rolled out. It’s an area that we want to walk not run in because we want to do it right. But, no, I don’t see any huge migration to programmatic.
What do you see as the downside with programmatic?
I don’t know. What we do out of the gate won’t certainly be precedent setting. I think one question is how much data or information is made available to advertisers online. You know, we are a commodity business. If you are the third or fourth station in the market with wide-open access to all of your inventory and I were an advertiser, I would be aggressive in pricing the purchasing of some of that time.
Isn’t it your job as the sales guy to convince people that a broadcast spot is not a commodity?
Sure, but if I am trying to get a $1,000 rate and a $250 cost per thousand in January and I am wide open and my competitors are wide open and they are selling for $100 per cost per thousand, I am going to have a hard time getting $1,000 for my spot.
So, again, what does programmatic mean to that dynamic?
If an agency has access to your traffic system and can place orders directly into your traffic system and see what’s available and what is not available and see that there is a lot available, it could make a negotiation lopsided.
Is programmatic something that could slow the slide in national spot?
To your point, probably yes — more on the national side than on the local side because the buyers of television advertising are always going to be more sophisticated on the national side than they are on the local side. So, yeah, I guess it has the potential to do that. The national marketplace, it seems, has been in decline for decades.
You seem to be shrugging your shoulders as you say that. I mean have we accepted that it’s going to continue that way?
I don’t really know. I guess that’s a question. We seem to go through cycles where it declines and then it flattens out. I have not seen an up cycle in a while.
Gray has moved to do something about it. I am sure you saw its announcement this week that they brought their rep business in-house. What do you think of that move?
I think it’s a bold move. I think starting a rep company is a challenge. Witness that we have only two companies in the business today. But I think it’s going to be a little bit uphill for Gray.
So you are not ready to follow?
Well, with two stations, no we wouldn’t, but I think if I had 20 or 30 stations, I would tread slowly in that direction. I like having as many sales people in as many cities as I can. For me, there’s no substitute for getting a sales person in front of a buyer and having a relationship. I think that’s a challenge when you start a new rep firm.
Who is your rep?
Katz is our rep.
You are sticking with them then?
Yep. We moved there from Petry three or four years ago and looking at where Petry is today, I am kind of glad we did.
We are working on a story about TV sales and how the job is changing. What would you say about that?
I don’t think it’s changed dramatically other than you have a lot more data to use in selling. I think the time at your desk is far less than it was because of tablets and iPhones and lots of research capabilities. It should, for the smart sales person, give you more time in front of a client and more time to do homework as to what does best on TV and what doesn’t do the best on TV. To me I think technology has given the better reps more time to prospect, more time to be in front of customers and that’s always going to make you the most successful.
So that’s your message to your people — to get in front of people?
You don’t have to sit and write letters anymore. You can fire off one-line emails, two-word answers. You can talk to clients much, much more now than you ever did. You can play commercials sitting at a desk in front of somebody. Technology has really helped the sales people be much more efficient.
Is it as lucrative as it was 20 years ago?
Well, they have a lot more competition today, but if they are smart they will take advantage of that as we said earlier by mining our own landscapes for digital advertisers on our websites. Our CBS affiliate in Columbus is the most popular website locally, more so than the newspaper actually. So a smart sales person will take advantage of that.
So you don’t separate digital and broadcast sales?
We have a digital sales team as well, but the [broadcast] time sellers also sell digital.
What about this CRM software from Salesforce, Matrix and others? How does that affect the business?
It makes it easier for sales managers to monitor the productivity of sales people.
Isn’t that like big brother looking over their shoulders all the time?
In a way it is. If you are doing everything you are supposed should to be doing, you shouldn’t have to worry about that. You know, it’s character. If you are doing something that you don’t want people to know you are doing, you shouldn’t be doing it. It’s like laying down.
How is business in Columbus and Indianapolis?
It’s actually quite good. Both are healthy with regular advertisers and political is going to be big in Ohio in ’16. We are already seeing a good amount of political activity.
Yes we have been working on a marijuana ballot initiative in Ohio.
How are you taking advantage of the fact that the newspapers are in sort of a free-fall?
Chasing those clients. We look at the advertisements in both markets that are in the newspaper. Go out and target them. Target the newspaper websites. Make sure our websites are as dominate as our television stations are and then go out and make the case.
So TVB is moving into the Waldorf-Astoria. You guys must be pretty flush.
That’s the plan. We had good comments about last year’s [venue], but then at the end of the conference there were a lot of people that had obstructed views and a number of folks suggested we step it up even further. We did. We moved into the Waldorf and the forecast on the conference looks very positive. Registrations and sponsorships, both are up over prior years.