Political Ad Time Gets Tight

Sep 18, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Amid heavy spending by Democrats, Republicans and political groups, the possibility is growing that there could be a “sold-out” sticker on TV station ad space in the coming weeks.

A large number of competitive contests together with some ballot measures are fueling spending that could exceed advertising inventory, especially in Ohio, Pennsylvania, California, Rhode Island and Connecticut.

“We see more races on the air earlier, more groups engaging. It looks like [we’re within] the last 30 days [before elections] and we are still 60 days out,” said Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of TNS Media Intelligence’s Campaign Media Analysis Group.

Nick Ulmer, general sales manager for Louisville, Ky., NBC affiliate TV station WAVE-TV, said the station has already had to pre-empt some regular advertising for political ads in order to get in all the ads for some hot congressional races, a mayoral race and two circuit judge races. And problems could increase as the Nov. 7 election day approaches.

“The market is tight,” he said, adding that as much as 45 percent of the station’s October advertising inventory may be devoted to political ads.

Mr. Tracey said the problems could be especially intense this year as 36 gubernatorial races and other state office contests get added to an intense race among Democrats and Republicans for control of the Senate and House. He said that in some states, the problems will likely be statewide. In others, certain markets will be far more affected. He cited TV stations in upstate New York; Des Moines, Iowa; Louisville and Paducah, Ky.; and South Bend, Ind.

Democrats and Republicans say President Bush’s poll numbers and the public’s unhappiness with the Iraq war, gas prices and local issues have combined to make this year’s congressional races more competitive and harder fought, with Republicans and supporters digging in to maintain control and Democrats waging an all-out battle to win it away from them.

“It’s more competitive in more states,” said Phil Singer, communications director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “We are playing offense and taking aggressive steps to bring our message to the voters.”

He said the Democratic Party committee challenged one incumbent in 2004 and is challenging eight this time.

Brian Nick, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Republicans are also spending more and doing more.

“We are spending more money overall on races than last cycle,” said Mr. Nick, though declining to provide details on spending.

Some of the additional money is going toward the Internet. The party has used the Bivins Group to create Web sites that attack U.S. Reps. Sherrod Brown (faroutbrown.com) in Ohio and Harold E. Ford Jr. (fancyford.com) in Tennessee in the races for U.S. Senate posts, but most is going toward TV ads.

Mr. Tracey, who had originally predicted spending could reach $1.4 billion this election cycle, now sees that figure as the lowest possible spending for this year, and posited that 2006 spending could top the $1.7 billion spent in 2004, a presidential election year. He told the Television Bureau of Advertising in New York last week it could be $1.6 billion.

“The likelihood of us going past 2004 is high,” he said.