TV Advertising 101: Everything a Business Should Know

09.22.2020 Sara Brasfield


With more than 120 million American homes watching TV on a regular basis, cable TV advertising is still an important advertising medium that can help your small business connect with customers and stay competitive in your local area.

Even as local government lockdowns end and citizens are allowed to spend more time outside of their homes, research suggests that the higher TV consumption spurred on by the pandemic has been maintained in recent months. This suggests that the growth of cable TV audiences is actually part of a “new normal.”

At the same time, cable TV has become a more diverse advertising medium for small businesses, which creates new opportunities and offers additional value through not only linear cable TV broadcasts, but also over-the-top options such as cable video-on-demand and cable streaming services.

In terms of its value to small businesses, cable TV also sets itself apart from major broadcast networks by offering a wider range of channels that offer specialized content catering to more narrowly defined audiences. This allows small businesses to target their ads to a specific viewership, and to focus ads in their local area by only airing ads to certain zones within their designated market area. Better audience targeting—boosted even further by targeting capabilities through OTT services—improves ad efficiency, resulting in better ROI than what larger, more general broadcast networks can offer.

If you’re new to TV advertising and how it can help your business, read on for important insights and tips to make the most of this ad opportunity.


As an advertising medium, TV is one of many options available to businesses alongside radio, print, display ads, social media, and numerous other digital and offline channels. But it offers several features and advertising advantages that distinguishes it from other ad channels.

Here’s a look at what makes TV advertising, and cable TV in particular, an excellent and unmatched opportunity for your business:

  • The power of live sports: Live sports remains one of the biggest draws in terms of both consumer viewership and audience engagement. Cable TV gives you access to highly-rated live sports inventories where you can show your ads to a relevant, engaged audience.
  • The convergence of TV targeting: OTT and other programmatic advertising now gives precise reporting and analytics that were previously missing in tv advertising. In the past, advertising through TV meant ignoring streamer and on-demand viewers. Now, integrated TV ad campaigns allow you to reach everyone at the same time: live cable TV audiences, on-demand viewers, network app users, and digital video streamers.
  • Cost-effective production: Creating a TV commercial is more cost-effective than ever. Video production equipment is affordable even for small businesses, and digital ad partners with production studios can create affordable, engaging ads through full-scale production, onsite shooting, and other services.
  • Increasing viewership: While the myth of cord-cutting has fostered a belief that consumers are abandoning cable TV service, the reality is that cable TV subscription levels have remained steady in recent years. More recently, the pandemic has sparked a surge in viewership across the board, with popular TV shows experiencing double-digit gains in live viewership in recent months.

As mentioned above, that increase in viewership seems to have staying power, which suggests that consumers have rediscovered a passion for live TV content and watching content as it airs on cable channels, instead of watching on-demand at a later date. And TV ads remain highly influential on customer purchase decisions, earning higher engagement rates and ranking among the top ad channels when it comes to consumer trust.

In fact, 61 percent of consumers either somewhat or completely trust TV ads, highlighting the enduring influence TV can have on your target audience.


There isn’t one set package of pricing when advertising on TV. Everything is tailored to your marketing goals and the criteria you choose when creating a campaign. That criteria includes the following:

  • Whether you want to advertise on cable or broadcast TV. This can determine which consumers you are reaching, and the type of programming options available to you. Choosing between cable tv advertising and broadcast tv advertising also determines the geographic area where your ads will be aired: Broadcast is good for advertising to a large population across a large geographic area, but often times will be more expensive. While cable TV advertising can be targeted to specific zones within a designated market area, which lets small businesses focus ads to the customers nearest to their business or service area, saving you as a business owner money.
  • Time of day. Prime-time ads typically come at the highest cost, while less competitive time slots during the day or late at night are more affordable.
  • Commercial length. In most cases, 30-second ads offer the best bang for your buck. Fifteen-second ads are sold as what is called “book ends” where one commercial will show at the beginning of the commercial break, and a second commercial at the end of the commercial break. These fifteen-second ads have more limited inventory than 30-second ads, which increases their price. Sixty-second ads, on the other hand, come at twice the cost of a 30-second slot, have limited inventory options, and may offer diminishing returns compared to delivering your message through a 30-second spot,
  • Buying a specific channel or a specific show. In general, the more selective you are about when and where your ad airs, the more you’re likely to pay. Most cable companies will give you an idea of who is watching specific channels and shows, so you can pick the right shows that will match your typical customers.

This pricing structure allows businesses to customize their campaigns to suit both their goals and their budget. While most people think it takes thousands of dollars to advertise on tv, that is simply not the case. Advertising on cable tv is more like the cost a tank of gas than the cost of advertising during the super bowl.


Purchasing TV advertising isn’t hard to do—even when you need to produce the commercial you plan to air. The most cost-effective approach is to find a cable tv advertising partner who can produce and/or place your ad for you in your target market.

First, reach out to the cable providers advertising division for the cable provider in your state. If a local NBC or ABC affiliate is where you want to advertise, you need to reach out to that channel directly. Plan ahead, because it typically takes 20-30 days from the initial conversation until your first commercial airs.

Cox Media, however, offers a streamlined process that can help you get already produced commercials on the air in as little as a week. This allows businesses to launch more agile TV campaigns where commercials can quickly respond to changing market conditions—a feature of digital advertising that proved invaluable at the start of the pandemic, when businesses were scrambling to share important messaging with their customers.

No matter which provider you choose to work with, the media rep at that cable company will talk with you about your goals for your business, evaluate options, and customize a plan that will meet your goals.

Consider these questions as you approach this process:

  • What are your business priorities and plans? What are your goals for your TV ad campaign?
  • Who is your typical customer? Think in terms of demographics as well as geographic location and interests. This will help identify TV channels, shows and time slots where you can reach this audience.
  • What area would you like to draw business from? Do you serve the whole city, or just a 20-mile radius around your business?
  • Is there an optimal time to target your potential customers (such as upcoming seasonal sales, traditional seasons of peak business, and holidays)?
  • How do you want to measure the success of your TV ad campaign? Are you trying to get more people to visit your site and fill out a form to set an appointment, or do you want more foot traffic in your store?

After gathering this information and evaluating your advertising goals and budget, the media rep will design a plan that meets your goal and will target your potential customers. Local cable companies offer advanced media research from Nielsen and ComScore that others can’t access. This research comes at no cost to small business owners—they’re just one more benefit of working with a trusted partner.

If you like the plan and recommendations, then you’re set to start airing as soon as your commercial is ready. If you already have a commercial, check with your media consultant to see if it meets the required upload specs. If you need a commercial created, your consultant can either give you guidelines for outside production, or you can use the cable company’s production team to create your commercial.


After launching your commercial, the media consultant will sit down with you to discuss results, and will help you evaluate your ROI from this campaign. This analysis will rely on Google Analytics, along with other reports and research tools. Typically, you will get more reliable data once your ad has been airing for at least a month. If you only run a couple of commercials for three days, for example, you probably won’t see much of an impact. The more people see your ad, the more your company will be top of mind to the consumer.

If you’re still unsure how to buy TV advertising after reading this article, contact your local cable company’s advertising division. Those professionals will be able to walk you through the process of planning and launching a TV ad campaign—and they’ll make sure you get the value you need from this investment.

Ready to get started? Contact Cox Media today.


If you’re new to TV advertising, you’re probably hearing a lot of terms you might be unfamiliar with. To help you out, here are some definitions of common terms you can expect to hear a lot as you immerse yourself in cable TV ad campaigns.

  • Daypart: Standard divisions of a 24-hour day for scheduling commercials
  • Demographics: Quantifiable characteristics of a given population. Demographics are groups defined by criteria such as age, income, education, and nationality
  • Designated Market Area (DMA): A defined geographical area assigned to each television market that can be broken down into small sub-geographies for more precise targeting
  • Flight: The duration of time for which an advertising campaign is live- the start and end date of your campaign
  • Frequency: The number of times you reach each person with your advertisement; also, a proven marketing tactic for campaigns that reinforce a brand with a specific audience
  • Network: A channel that produces tv content. HGTV, CNN, and ESPN are examples of networks that you can choose from that produce content and shows.
  • OTT: Video content that is delivered over the internet without a tv subscription
  • Points: A measure of viewership of a television program or show
  • Rating: Estimated percent of TV households or persons tuned to a specific network or program at a certain time
  • Reach: A measurement for the number of people who are exposed to your marketing message/advertisement; also, a proven marketing tactic for campaigns that introduce a service or product to a wide audience
  • Set-Top Box: Technology sold by most cable providers or multichannel video programming distributors (MVPD) that allow users to view their TV content
  • Spot (ad copy/creative/commercial): An advertising spot is the actual advertisement produced; a video segment typically lasting 15,30, or 60 seconds that carries a brands message
  • TV Everywhere: is a solution that provides a digital extension of a tv subscription that makes it content available on a standard tv subscription, on-demand streaming, and other channel specific programming available through branded cable service apps and online
  • Universe Estimate: The total persons or homes in each population, i.e. the TV households in the U.S., or wired-cable households
  • Video on Demand (VOD): video content that can be accessed whenever, usually after something has aired live. This is usually through a set top box with a cable subscription
  • Zone (geotargeting): A sub geography within the DMA that allows for more granular targeting within a specific local community; also, a method of reaching certain audiences based on their physical location
About the Author

Sara Brasfield

Sara is the Content Marketing Manager for Cox Media’s corporate team in Atlanta, with a passion for writing and delivering relevant insights for advertisers. With more than seven years of experience in B2B marketing, Sara aims to help Cox Media’s current and future clients connect with their customers find new and unique ways to grow their business. Outside of the (now virtual!) office, Sara loves spending time running, reading and supporting her favorite teams (Go Braves & Gamecocks!).

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