Cable Nets Prime for Election

May 11, 2008  •  Post A Comment

TV stations were the big media winner in the campaigns for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations, but cable networks could be the new victors as those campaigns shift their focus toward the November election.
Political consultants, media observers and even one of the campaigns suggest that while TV stations still will get plenty of money this fall, the unique features of this year’s race could make network cable the choice for additional spending, with an outside possibility that network broadcast time could also come into play.
Some offer some good news for Florida and Michigan stations: Because the Democratic candidates did not campaign in those states’ primaries almost any successful strategy to win the states in November would call for introductory advertising there, probably pretty quickly.
Any early advertising by Sen. Barack Obama could in turn beget ads from Sen. John McCain, the Republican Party or partisan groups.
The biggest factor pointing toward national buys is the Obama campaign’s expected decision to opt out of federal financing, thereby allowing it to spend as much as it raises. The consultants suggest that could bring a lot more money for ads, with the most likely addition being a national effort to overlay state ads.
Then there is the uncertainty about the exact states in play and the prospect that many more could be in the mix this time. Buying national at least initially could allow the campaigns to postpone decisions on where to target; with more states in play, national becomes more efficient, and that’s true for both candidates.
“The likelihood that this year there will be many more target states makes it more likely for a national cable strategy … because it’s cheaper than buying [local] cable in all the target states,” said Mark McKinnon, director of the McCain campaign’s Foxhole Productions ad team.
Spokesmen from the Clinton and Obama teams did not return calls.
Finally, some of the cable industry changes over the four years since the last presidential election—the growth of satellite dish service and the entry of phone companies into the “cable” area—raise concerns about voters being missed in spot cable buys, a situation that is avoidable with national buys.
“There is some credence to the idea [of national buys],” said Vinny Michillo, creative director of Scott Howell & Co., Dallas, and one of the major GOP ad consultants. “A lot of big states are up for grabs.”
He said on the Republican side, national purchases make the most sense if the McCain campaign decides to contest California, but it still could make buys aimed at specific groups.
All the candidates have been buying cable news channels this year. In 2004, the Bush campaign bought golf and tennis programming on cable.
Bill Carrick, a Democratic consultant for media consulting firm Morris & Carrick in Los Angeles, said an Obama candidacy is likely to put a larger electoral map in play, which would include Colorado and Montana, among other states.
Meanwhile, Sen. McCain, who has done well in the past in New Hampshire, could add that and may look at Oregon and Washington, Mr. Carrick said.
Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of TNS Media Intelligence’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, a company that tracks spending on political advertising, said that along with the states in play being “a very fluid battleground” this year, the combination of higher interest in cable news networks and Olympics coverage will likely push the candidates toward greater use of cable as a way to keep their supporters motivated and to win over independents.
The potential for cable comes as the final spending figures for the primaries become clearer.
According to Campaign Media Analysis Group, $241 million has been spent so far on presidential campaign advertising, with up to $20 million more coming if Sen. Hillary Clinton remains in the Democratic race and both she and Sen. Obama continue to advertise through the remaining contests. The Obama campaign has spent $76 million so far; the Clinton campaign has spent $46 million.
With about $40 million more spent on local cable, which CMAG doesn’t track, that would put the total ad spending in the presidential primaries at about $300 million. About $140 million of that was spent in calendar year 2008.
That compares with $64.4 million spent four years ago, although there was only a Democratic campaign and its March end was immediately followed with $70.2 million in spending through May 1, much of it by the Bush campaign in ads targeting Sen. John Kerry.
CMAG estimates total spending on political advertising in the presidential race will be $800 million this year, up from $650 million in 2004.


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