The material itself has improved, too. Schaff's company collects remnant and previously aired commercial content from advertising agencies and skilled commercial production firms all over the country. Much of it is shot originally on film, yielding a superior visual texture.
For the films that make commercials, licensing content offers a way to capture additional revenues beyond their original assignment. For Thought Equity's customers, it produces a pool of professionally produced, searchable material that can be identified, ordered and downloaded or physically delivered within a day. Laptop-toting AEs can show off downloaded video spots to clients in the same way that newspaper and Yellow Page representatives display pre-produced ad templates. Even if clients don't immediately embrace a piece of pre-produced video, simply surveying samples of other commercials can inspire fresh ideas and help close sales, says Schaff.
Even so, the deal making within the industry has been slow so far. Comcast's Colorado-Wyoming cable advertising operation has made extensive use of the Thought Equity databank, helping clients including GolfTECH and the Colorado Lottery develop campaigns or campaign ideas inspired by existing commercials. But no corporate had been reported with Comcast of other MSO's through May.
One reason may have more to do with pricing models than anything else. Notoriously reticent to spend upfront cash, some cable operators have resisted overtures from Thought Equity that required hefty advance payments coupled with per-transaction license fees, says Peter Moran, a well-known cable advertising executive who previously led the company's business development efforts. "I love the idea," says Moran. "But I had differences over the economic model."
Schaff says costs are in fact relatively inexpensive, especially when compared to average costs to create original commercials. Plus, he says time-to-air is reduced dramatically with stock footage, allowing operators to get commercials on the air, and invoices in the mail, sooner.
If the MSO deals do come, there's no assurance Thought Equity will have a lock on the market. The giants of still-photography licensing, Getty Images and Corbis, both have small licensing firms like New York City's Re:Stock are in business to supply quick-turnaround video. Most of them target larger ad agencies, however, and some take longer to deliver materials, Schaff says, because they clear rights only after a client has made a selection. Plainly, none have pursued cable industry relationships with the vigor Schaff has displayed. In March, Thought Equity formed a partnership with interactive advertising developer Visible World Inc. to help supply video assets for customized cable TV commercials tailored to unique viewers.
Based on those attributes, Schaff figures he has a better solution for cable - one he hopes will translate into a significant presence in the industry. The sell-in effort to the cable industry hasn't been more difficult than Schaff anticipated when he identified cable as a key market more than a year ago. But the time devoted has. "Everyone's been very receptive," Schaff says of his MSO dealings. "It just takes a while to get through the process.