A Designated Market Area (DMA) is a technical term for what most people commonly refer to as a TV market. Broadcast networks typically have an affiliate in each DMA. Currently there are 210 DMAs in the United States. Every county in the US is part of a DMA, no matter how close or far you live to your local network affiliate.
Because every county is part of a DMA, some can be very large and full of rural counties many miles away from the center of the market. Let us take the example of the Dallas-Fort Worth DMA, the 5th largest in the country. Over 7 million people live in the DMA, which includes over 2.5 million TV households.
The size and sprawl of the DFW DMA is enormous. Dallas TV stations reach 32 counties in Northeast Texas. The size of the DMA is over 26,000 square miles, which is larger than the state of West Virginia. Traveling from Downtown Dallas to some of the counties on the edge of the viewing area can be quite a trek. The distance from Downtown Dallas to Comanche, the county seat of Comanche County, is approximately 120 miles. Traveling by car, it is somewhere near 140 miles away. On the other end of the DMA is Red River County. Its county seat, Clarksville, is 115 miles northeast of Downtown Dallas. Even if you push the limits on the back roads, it will take over two hours to go from Dallas to these locales. It’s safe to say no one in Clarksville or Comanche is commuting into Dallas every day. And yet, they are equally part of the TV market as the city of Dallas.
The Census Bureau defines the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) as only 12 counties.
Even so, this 12 county region is nearly the size of Maryland. This more restrictive definition of the metro area still includes some totally rural counties such as Delta, Hunt, and Wise Counties. In reality, there are only a handful of counties with true urbanization. Nearly all of Dallas County is developed. Most of Tarrant County (Ft. Worth), except for the southern and western fringes, is developed. The northern suburban counties of Collin and Denton have some parts closest to the big cities developed, but even the majority of their land remains rural. Finally, the edges of Rockwall, Johnson, and Ellis Counties have seen some recent development. Everything else in the region is rural and small town.
This creates some issues in advertising. In a huge DMA like Dallas-Ft. Worth, any advertising that doesn’t have a reach in the whole market will see significant waste of resources. Local businesses and non-statewide political candidates would be targeting only a fraction of a very expensive market.
Additionally, there is a sizable amount of socioeconomic diversity within the viewing area. Residents of the super wealthy Park Cities enclave (Highland Park, University Park) are much more likely to read out of town newspapers, attend high culture events (ballet, symphony), drives Porsches and Lexuses, drink cocktails or wine, and go to Whole Foods.
Suburbanites out in Collin County have disproportionately large families, heavily frequent amusement parks, like to buy sporting goods, and listen extensively to childrens and Christian radio stations.
Comanche and Red River Counties, in contrast, are much less affluent. They are much more likely to hunt, gamble, drive cars from the Big Three domestic auto makers, drink domestic beers, and support country music. These are just three of numerous segments of consumers that advertisers will reach on broadcast TV. Many times, it won’t make sense to target all of these segments.
So how do you avoid waste in delivering your message? One way is to use cable. Cable advertising is done through local cable systems, which have a far smaller geographic sweep. For example, the Park Cities have their own cable system, Time-Warner Park Cities. This is a small cable system that can be specifically targeted at this viewer base. Similarly, Red River County also has its own cable system, Suddenlink Clarksville. Collin County has a few different overlapping cable providers such as Time Warner and Viamedia spread out on a few different systems apiece. Through a judicious use of cable, you can target customers in a much more efficient manner.
Some rural areas do not have cable at all. If you are still interested in targeting consumers in outlying areas of a DMA, you can explore non-metro radio. Unlike TV, not every county is part of a radio market. The Dallas-Ft. Worth radio market is only 11 counties, meaning that the majority of remaining counties are non-metro radio. There are state radio networks that specialize in placing spots on rural radio stations, saving buyers the trouble of searching through the multitude of small town stations.
Broadcast advertising remains the most popular medium for advertising due to its extensive reach. In many circumstances, broadcast TV is too expensive and too widely diffused for anything but a buy from a national advertiser. Exploring other options such as cable or radio can be a much more effective method for selling a product or candidate.