Analysis: Will Viewers Tune in to Obama’s Half-Hour Ad?

Oct 28, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Call it Barack Obama’s $3.5 million gamble, but as the Obama campaign readies to air a half-hour TV program at 8 p.m. EDT Wednesday on major broadcast and some cable networks, the question is will it actually work?
Amidst discussion about how the ad dramatically showcases the media buying advantages created by the Obama campaign’s fundraising prowess, there are questions about the ad’s potential effectiveness. The Obama ad will air Wednesday on CBS, Fox, NBC, BET, Univision, TVOne and MSNBC.
The real test of the ad’s success is a three-part one.
First, will it be seen at all, or will viewers ignore it? Second, will the ad really convert undecided voters or motivate already committed Obama voters to get out and vote? Finally, even if viewers don’t view the ad, will its airing fuel enough discussion in the press, on TV and radio talk shows and at water coolers of the issues it mentions or the ad itself to be worth the spending?
Because there is no recent history of half-hour campaign ads in the presidential race—the last one was aired by third-party candidate Ross Perot in 1992—none of the answers is readily apparent.
Also, the Obama campaign has encouraged people to convene at house parties to watch the ad, potentially making viewership more difficult to judge.
In 1992, Mr. Perot aired 15 half-hours, generating an average of 11.6 million viewers, according to the Nielsen Co. A final half-hour, which aired simultaneously on ABC, NBC and CBS, drew 26 million viewers.
That was a different time, when the major TV networks had a much bigger chunk of the total TV audience, and those half-hours were the major advertising tool of the Perot campaign.
This time around, Wednesday’s half-hour ad is just one small tool of the Obama campaign’s advertising plan. Generally, the Obama campaign’s ads are getting heavy airing in battleground states, but it also has aired ads in network TV news, entertainment and sports programming.
Unless the half-hour ad craters in the Nielsens, trying to accurately assess the impact of the ad alone isn’t going to be easy.
Nielsen said that recently CBS has been drawing audiences of 6.3 million viewers, NBC 9.7 million viewers and Fox 6.9 million viewers during that daypart.
On Fox on Wednesday, the Obama ad has the advantage of being the lead-in to the World Series, but the two small-market teams aren’t exactly setting the ratings on fire, so there’s no guarantee that will increase viewership for the ad.
While voters’ viewing of the political conventions and the presidential debates were generally up this year, will that interest apply as well to a 30-minute ad?
Stay tuned.


  1. Huh? Philadelphia is the 4th largest DMA in the country. Did someone swap out teams in the middle of the Series and forget to tell me?
    TVWeek reporting is doing downhill fast.

  2. First of all lets get this one right America. Obama is black, but only by the pigmentation of his skin. He was not born in Africa, he was born in Hawaii. His faher was born in Kenya,and since he acts as if he never had a “White” mother or a mother at all, lets just pretend that Daddy made Obama all by himself.Question, how can he claim he is ‘African American?’when he is so busy sitting down at dinner functions with Arab Terrorists and discussing the idea that ‘Israel is the primary reason for all the suffering of Palestians. Second, How can anyone with a brain or good “God fearing” people even consider voting for this ‘Imposter?’. Did everyone who ever read a history book forget about what happened in Germany in 1938? Yet the LA TIMES Endorses this guy before they investigate his back ground. Shame on you La Times. Who is Obama?
    Radical?, YES. Extremist? YES. Traitor to America? Most certainly. Why? Just read the La Times and see for yourself. Hitler was a heck of a nice guy too,until he gased six million innocent Jews. So now what fella’s over in LA ? Now that you bit off a piece of the pie ,it doesn’t taste too good huh?
    wake up all of America before it is too late.
    I wonder what everyone would say if it were Mccain who sat down to have dinner everynight with his wife and KHALID SHAIKH MOHAMMED?

  3. OK, I supposedly live in one of those “battleground states.” I’m not so happy to even see an infomercial in PrimeTime. I knoow locally, I have, along with Billy Graham.
    This practice does disrupt the flow of the audiences, no matter what numbers are there.
    Remember, there are many more possibilities than those who wish to push a button on thier Neilson boxes to have thier viewing tallied. Many more possibilities exist for TV viewing, other than the few in a market who have those Nilson boxes.
    So, if you look at numbers, it doesn’t reflect anything. You won’t find how many people will vote for a candidate, on either side. You also won’t find the real number of people who watched. You also cannot find out what people are thinking at the point of watching, second by second.
    The only group of people this may benifit… TV networks. Yes the economy is depresed. However, this is not a license to disrupt programming, news, etc. Short-term money appears to be the main issue here. Not long-term gains, with regular programming.
    Besides… if a tornado breaks out during the “show,” does this mean someone will look the station’s General Manager’s personal info, on police computers?? What about boycotting a station for a crawl (amber alert or WX) of the event?, during the infomercial??
    I’m not trying to be difficult or support any candidate, when I say this. But living 2 miles down the road, literally, from “Joe the Plumber” (or SAM W.), and seeing how corrupt the local officilas were, in support over a particular candidate… this needs to be said. It could be a liability, at the current rate of events – in the news. Its just too risky, if somethin happens.
    If the network were in the public interest, they would not allow any candidate to take 30 minutes out of programming for thier [the canidates] own use. The networks are also trying to line thier own pocketbooks, short-term.
    This decision has nothing to do with moving the economy along… make note of that!

  4. Hi Ira,
    I just wanted to let you know that THEWEEK.com linked to your article today in a piece we wrote titled ‘The Obama Show gamble,’ (http://www.theweek.com/article/index/90174/3/The_Obama_Show_gamble). We enjoyed reading your take on this subject.
    Thanks, and all the best,
    Harold Maass

  5. Hey Rebelroe:
    So let me get this straight, if you’re skin is dark but you’re born in say, Sweden, then suddenly you’re not black? That’s logical. Obama identifies himself as black because that’s what American society would identify him as–whether he chose that or not. That’s not disregarding his mother; that’s facing reality. In this country, a white woman can give birth to a black baby, but the majority of people here would not call the child of a black woman and white man a white baby.
    Even more importantly, what does ANY of this have to do with the issues we are facing as a country. As for McCain, what do you say about him sitting down with Chile’s Agusto Pinochet, who killed countless numbers of his own citizens, and not saying a word to him about it.
    Hypocritical much?

  6. rebelroe,
    I don’t know where to start, so I will just say that your post is the dumbest thing I have ever read. Why does John McCain himself even say that Obama is a decent family man?
    So you’re telling me that Obama and his wife sit down to dinner every night with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed? The absolute dumbest, most uneducated response I have ever read.

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