Recall Election TV Ads Below First Estimate

Oct 6, 2003  •  Post A Comment

California’s gubernatorial recall election has brought $35 million to $40 million to the state’s TV stations, an amount below many initial estimates but a welcome boost to an overall lackluster local TV ad market.
“It’s what I expected, but it’s not what stations may have expected,” said Sheri Sadler Wolf, executive VP and media director of Target Enterprises, the Encino, Calif.-based media-buying agency for Mr. Schwarzenegger’s campaign.
Early estimates by various groups and publications were that the short campaign season would bring as much as $120 million in local TV advertising to California. TelevisionWeek estimated (Sept. 25, 2003) spending would be around $62 million, but that did not take into account that three major candidates would drop out before election day. The estimate for the four who remained in the race was $40 million, which is in line with actual results.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Republican contender and front-runner in the polls, is the top TV ad spender at $12 million, Ms. Wolf said. The TelevisionWeek story estimated he would spend up to $15 million.

Next comes Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, who is spending about $8 million, according to estimates from media buyers and sellers. TelevisonWeek predicted he would spend about $10 million. Most of Mr. Davis’ efforts are designed to ask voters to vote against the recall election.
Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante spent $7 million, while State Sen. Tom McClintock, a Republican, bought $1 million. TelevisionWeek estimated Mr. Bustamante would spend $10 million and Mr. McClintock $5 million. Arianna Huffington, an independent who last week officially bowed out of the race, spent $100,000. TelevisionWeek estimated she would spend about $5 million.
The difference in spending, beyond individual candidates, is due to outside buyers. A number of Indian tribes bought TV time for specific issues and particular candidates. For instance, the Morongo tribe spent $2 million on Mr. McClintock, $1 million on Mr. Bustamante and $4.3 million on a “No on the Recall” campaign, according to media executives.
Overall, the election improved the local advertising TV picture for the state, which was anticipating a downtrend in revenues for 2003. National spot advertising for the state will be “minus-1 percent to plus-1 percent” for the year, said Mike Kincaid, senior VP of advertising sales for KCBS-TV and KCAL-TV, Los Angeles. Last year Los Angeles pulled in about $1.5 billion in local TV advertising sales, and San Francisco pulled in about $1 billion, according to estimates.
Mr. Kincaid believes $15 million has been spent in Los Angeles alone for the election.
Ron Longinotti, VP and general manager of KPIX-TV, San Francisco, figures the race put about $6 million into San Francisco TV stations. “We really didn’t get a lot of Republican activity,” said Mr. Longinotti, in explaining the low estimate. … The market is 75 percent Democratic.”
At the outset of the campaign, stations were panicking out of concern that the large number of candidates-135-would stretch their ability to accommodate all TV campaigns-especially in having to give candidates the “lowest unit rate” to comply with Federal Communications Commission regulations.
And though the overall California TV spot advertising market was soft, the local ad business in September was strong. As a result, TV stations executives were concerned about how they would handle the huge influx of money in such a short time frame.
Ms. Wolf said some stations placed restrictions on how much candidates could buy. But, she added, it didn’t hurt candidates’ overall media plans.