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Spot Runner culls unsold TV spots

With start-up's media-buying application, every small business can become a late-night TV oddity.

CARLSBAD, Calif.--If Spot Runner co-founder Nick Grouf is right, local convenience stores and kebab stands will soon be advertising on national cable networks.

Spot Runner has created a media-buying application that seeks out cheap ad slots on networks such as the Outdoor Life Network, CNN and AMC and then books them for small and medium-size businesses. The company also gives its clients relatively generic ads that can be slightly customized, so they don't have to create their own spots.

The problem that the Los Angeles-based start-up is addressing is that cable networks don't sell all their ad spots.

Nick Grouf Nick Grouf, CEO,
Spot Runner

"There are a lot more (empty spots) than you think," Grouf said Monday in one of the more heavily attended sessions here at PC Forum, a three-day conference that ends Tuesday. "Right now, the national TV networks represent one-third of the eyeballs, but they take two-thirds of the ad dollars. That is going to start to change."

Many people assume that a 30-second spot on cable TV during prime time costs around $10,000, Grouf said. Actually, TV spots on many brand-name cable networks during prime time can sell for a lark. In a demonstration, Grouf booked commercial slots on several cable networks to be aired in Berkeley, Calif., for about $18 dollars a spot.

Booking the ad through Spot Runner also eliminates the costs of hiring a human media buyer or putting the ad together, the privately held company said.

So far, Spot Runner has become an agency of record for several real estate agencies, including Coldwell Banker. While most clients go with the generic ads, the company will also create an entirely original piece for $10,000.

PC Forum 2006

The site, in its look and feel, sort of resembles Customers select where and when they want to run ads and make minor changes in the voiceover script. (The business owner can add the name of the business.) The system then spits back available time slots and prices. A credit card number seals the deal. Grouf would not say whether Spot Runner buys the ads in advance or whether it merely knows which spots are available and buys them when the customer submits a credit card.

Spot Runner was started two years ago and has been placing ads on TV for about a year. It helped one call center agency run ads for new employees to accommodate a flood of work that came in after Hurricane Katrina. Spot Runner came out of stealth mode in January.

Grouf founded the company with David Waxman. Back in 1995, the two created Firefly Network, which Microsoft bought in 1998. The pair then formed PeoplePC during the "free PC" craze of the late 1990s. Most of the other "free PC" companies crumbled, and People PC itself endured severe difficulties. In 2002, however, PeoplePC was bought up by Internet service provider EarthLink.