The presidential primary season has barely begun and already there are two clear-cut winners: local broadcast TV and spot cable.
During each of the four days leading up to the Jan. 3 Iowa caucus, total political spending on TV stations in the state was averaging more than $1 million, according to Jack Poor, VP of marketing for the Television Bureau of Advertising.
Furthermore, in the final days before the Jan. 8 New Hampshire primary, total political spending on the Boston TV stations—which are beamed into New Hampshire—was about $4 million a day, with WMUR-TV in Manchester, N.H., averaging about $1 million a day, Mr. Poor said.
On the spot cable side—meaning commercials inserted by local cable operators into cable programming—total political spending in Iowa and New Hampshire exceeded $10 million, according to Andrew Capone, senior VP of business development and marketing for NCC. NCC, co-owned by Comcast Cable Communications, Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications, represents local cable operators throughout the country.
An astounding 300,000 political commercial messages ran on spot cable networks across the Iowa and New Hampshire markets, Mr. Capone said.
The level of political ad spending on both the broadcast stations and on spot cable set records.
“What we’ve seen on the local broadcast side is double and triple what we’ve seen in the past,” Mr. Poor said.
The increase on the spot cable side has been even more dramatic. “In Iowa the increase was six to seven times as much as we saw during the last presidential campaign in 2004,” said Steve Litwer, group vice president of advertising sales for OnMedia, the ad sales division of the MSO Mediacom.
In New Hampshire, 82% of all political spots leading up to the primary ran on spot cable, according to Dan Sinagoga, director of political advertising sales for Comcast Spotlight, the advertising sales division of Comcast Cable.
Even before the New Hampshire primary last week, local broadcasters in South Carolina, a major primary battleground where voting will take place later this month, were taking in between $600,000 and $800,000 a week, Mr. Poor said.
In Florida, which has a Republican primary coming up, spending has been reaching $750,000 a week on the local TV stations, he noted. “One of the more interesting things about the spending in Florida is that in Miami and West Palm Beach, the stations there have been seeing hardly any money because those areas are highly Democratic,” Mr. Poor said.
On the spot cable side, at least one of the major candidates, Sen. Barack Obama, started spending in South Carolina, Michigan and Georgia last week, sources said.
Local broadcasting, with its bigger reach and ratings, gets most of the political ad monies, Mr. Poor noted.
However, the increases spot cable has counted “really constitute a landmark change this time around,” said Comcast Spotlight’s Mr. Sinagoga.
“Virtually every candidate has taken advantage of spot cable,” said NCC’s Mr. Capone. “That hasn’t necessarily been true in the past. We are very happy with how spot cable has done with political advertising this season. Our share is much greater than ever, and it’s because spot cable, over the past several years, has very consciously prepared for this.”
Indeed, for many years throughout the 1980s and ’90s, many advertisers—not just political advertisers—complained that the problem with spot cable was its lack of uniformity. In cities such as Los Angeles, an advertiser could have faced a marketplace with a dozen or more cable operators, and the interconnects—when they were in place—often lacked the back-room sophistication advertisers and their agencies demanded.
As the MSO community consolidated, with fewer operators in many cities, the MSOs realized they were forfeiting millions of dollars in ad revenues annually by not having one-stop systems in place for Madison Avenue. So now they do.
“A real truth about this year’s primary season is that local TV is the winner, both broadcast and cable,” said a media consultant who has worked with political candidates in the past and requested anonymity.
“After Iowa and New Hampshire, there are too many primaries too quickly for the candidates to remain in their ‘meet and greet voters in homes and coffee shops’ mode,” the consultant added. “And look at all the money that was spent in those two states on TV when the candidates were in that mode. My God, it’s a windfall this year.”