The broadcast networks stand to come out of the 2008 presidential election as winners.
They have their first shot in years at getting a significant number of political ads because several big states will hold primaries earlier than usual, creating a national primary of sorts. And spending on the presidential race is likely to be richer than ever, with some experts estimating a $1 billion price tag.
Last week California moved its presidential primary up from June to Feb. 5. New York, Illinois and New Jersey are preparing to do the same, meaning more than a dozen states will hold primaries that day. Florida could hold its primary Jan. 29.
The new voting schedule could bolster cable and national radio as well as the broadcast nets, as candidates try to communicate broader messages to larger, more widespread audiences, media buyers and analysts said last week.
At the same time, however, campaigns are likely to shift media priorities away from local station buys.
Due to the high number of states holding primaries Feb. 5 and the generally high cost of local campaign ads, network buys are more efficient than local for candidates next year. “You could have a network overlay,” said one campaign media buyer, who requested anonymity.
He suggested candidates could choose a two-part strategy: offer broader national or regional messages, then bolster them with specific local messages in highly competitive areas.
Almost all candidate messages during the last presidential race ran locally, with a small amount of network cable. Steve Weber, national sales manager for NBC owned-and-operated KNSD-TV, San Diego, said he has also heard that more advertising revenue could go to the networks.
“We’ve thought about it and have been talking with visiting political ad agencies. There is a real lack of agreement on what impact it will have. Some people are projecting there won’t be any significant impact. Some people feel there will be more [advertising on] network than in the past. Others feel it will funnel critical dollars to them, because how do you win if you don’t win California? Then some candidates fear key [California] markets are so expensive that it will be cheaper to try to win three other states.”
San Diego has been a politically competitive area and KNSD could draw ad money even if Los Angeles and San Francisco stations don’t, Mr. Weber noted.
“In the past, San Diego has sometimes gotten a disproportionate share of the state’s ad budget, because it’s not predetermined,” he said.
Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of TNSMI/Campaign Media Analysis Group, said it’s still not clear whether the revamped schedule will boost or diminish the importance of the four early states — Iowa, with a tentative Jan. 14 primary; New Hampshire, with a Jan. 22 date; South Carolina on Jan. 29; and Nevada, where Democratic precinct caucuses could begin as early as Jan. 19. After those four, however, candidates’ priorities certainly will be the Feb. 5 primary, dubbed “Super Duper Tuesday” by some political observers.
“There isn’t enough money to do precinct-by-precinct organizing,” Mr. Tracey said. “With so many states and so many voters, no one candidate is going to be able to play, or have the desire to play, in all the spot markets.”
“Candidates with money will buy more national cable and explore network TV. They will be exploring it or at least kick the tires,” he said.
Mr. Tracey predicted $1 billion will be spent on the presidential race, up from the $658 million spent on the last election. He cited the number of candidates forgoing public financing and the accompanying state-by-state spending restrictions.
He’s cautious, however, both because some candidates may not have sufficient funds to remain in the race through the primaries and because there is no history of experience with a national primary.
“This is the first time through. There is no playbook,” he said.