Political Ads Corner Air Time in Iowa

Dec 27, 2007  •  Post A Comment

It may by the Fighting Illini versus the Trojans nationally, but the New Year’s Day Rose Bowl matchup is turning into a different kind of fight in Iowa.
With the state’s presidential caucus Thursday, every local spot in ABC’s telecast of the Rose Bowl game on Des Moines station WOI-TV on Tuesday has been bought by presidential candidates. That’s 10 30-second spots, some of which are being combined by candidates for 60-second messages.
“All of the traditional advertisers [on the game] have given away to politicians,” said Ray Cole, president and chief operating officer of Citadel Communication. Citadel owns the Des Moines station as well as KCAU-TV, Sioux City’s ABC affiliate, and WHBF-TV in Rock Island, Ill., which serves the Quad Cities. “It points to the level of activity. It’s unprecedented for caucuses.”
The Rose Bowl is far from the only venue seeing the political ads. With Christmas over and the Iowa caucuses next week, station and cable execs say the already heavy barrage of political ads on Iowa TV and cable stations is experiencing a dramatic rise.
They said last-minute buys by the candidates, together with the normal post-Christmas slowdown in other ad categories, means far more Iowa TV ads are political ads. Even when regular advertisers want in, in some cases federal requirements that give precedence to the political spots have led to some regular advertisers getting preempted.
“We certainly are seeing a lot of political ads,” said Dave Madsen, general manager of KTIV-TV in Sioux City, the NBC affiliate. “It’s somewhat a concern because we still want to take care of regular advertisers. Post-Christmas is a big time for auto dealers.”
He said NBC’s last-minute announcement of plans to carry the New England Patriots-New York Giants game Saturday night is forcing some rushing around, because it altered local advertising availabilities after they had already been sold.
In the last two days alone, Mr. Cole said, both Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd’s campaign and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton’s campaign have bought additional time. All the candidates now are buying all dayparts, he added, not just news or high-visibility programming.
“It is more active than it’s been at any point so far,” he said. “There is a preemption factor for regular advertising for the unprecedented advertising.”
Spot cable political advertising is selling at never-before-seen levels, according to Steve Litwer, group VP for ad sales at OnMedia, the ad sales arm of Mediacom Communications, Iowa’s largest cable system operator.
“The amount of local spot cable has increased over six times above the 2004 caucuses,” he said.
While Mr. Litwer said cable hasn’t seen much of a post-Christmas bump in political ads, the heavy continuing spending as other advertisers back off post-holiday likely is giving viewers a heavier percentage of political ads.
Mr. Litwer said in cable, too, the political advertisers are going well beyond buying news networks and public affairs programming.
“They are buying pretty deep,” he said, adding they are buying entertainment, not just news networks.

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