Spot cable is one of two basic ways to buy advertising on cable television. It allows regional small-business owners to show their TV ads on national cable networks that air in their local markets without having to buy airtime from those networks. Understanding the basics of spot cable can help you make decisions about purchasing cable TV advertising for your business.

Network Cable vs. Spot Cable

When you purchase ad time from a cable network, your ads are shown nationally, but only on that network. With spot cable, you purchase air time from cable operators rather than from networks. The cable operators can air your ads across any of the networks they broadcast, but only to their subscribers. Your reach is more limited geographically, but your ads may be seen on more networks within your local area.


Cable spot advertising provides a cost-effective way for you to reach your markets with demographic and geographic targeting. You can choose the cable networks on which your ad will air and the time of day it will be shown. Depending on the ad buy you negotiate, you may be able to choose specific shows with which your ad will air. In addition, digital media technology provides ways for you to tailor your ads to narrower geographic and demographic markets within your local market.

How to Buy

You can purchase spot cable directly from local cable systems or buy your spots through a cable-rep firm that represents multiple cable operators in multiple designated market areas (DMAs). If you want to reach subscribers on several cable systems within your area, the best option may be to work through a cable-rep agency or with an "interconnect," a group of cable companies within a designated marketing area that have banded together to make it easier for advertisers.

Targeted Advertising

The ability to tailor ads for specific markets is a major benefit of spot cable. You can often segment your ads by purchasing air time in specific geographic subsets of DMAs called zones, reducing your costs and further narrowing your market focus. Many cable systems offer the ability to add custom tags -- five-second audio or visual additions -- to ads to differentiate them geographically. If you have multiple store locations, for example, you can place a different address on ads shown in different ZIP codes within your advertising area.


Spot cable costs vary widely because so many factors affect the price. Gaebler Ventures, an international business incubator and venture capital fund, says prices are based on factors that include time of day, the program on which your ad airs, size of the audience and length of the ad. According to Gaebler, an ad spot on a local cable channel can cost as little as $50, while spot cable can air on national cable networks, such as Bravo, CNN and HGTV, for as little as $13 to $63 per spot.