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Ad Bounty Hasn’t Arrived

Sep 21, 2008  •  Post A Comment

As the presidential campaigns wage war over the economy, they’re starting to dump advertising revenue on broadcast stations and cable systems. But surprisingly, the widely anticipated massive increase in individual market spending hasn’t materialized.
Broadcasters in several battleground states say the presidential campaign is generating significant revenue—especially in a down economy—but they’ve been a little surprised and disappointed so far.
“It’s not the tsunami that many thought would occur,” said Bob Bee, director of sales for Hearst-Argyle’s WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh.
An advertising representative for broadcast stations described the political ad market as “active, but not out of control—nutso.”
Of course that could merely mean a slow start. There were signs last week that the campaigns’ rush to set the terms of this week’s political debate in the face of the economic meltdown could quickly ramp up spending.
Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of TNS Media Intelligence’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, noted that even with a sluggish start to the fall campaigns, the $3 billion in political spending he anticipates from all candidates and for all issues for this election is $600 million or 25% more than the $2.4 billion spent last time.
Mr. Tracey said $180 million has been spent on 337,000 airings of political commercials since the middle of June, with the Obama campaign spending $70 million, the McCain campaign $63 million and the rest coming from other candidates or issues.
Mr. Tracey said on average, $2.7 million a day is being spent on political ads.
He said he now anticipates the $3 billion will be the maximum rather than the minimum, as had been thought.
There were a number of signs last week that the spending already was starting to jump.
The campaigns launched a series of new ads related to the economic meltdown; the Obama campaign launched a two-minute spot and also began running a spot addressing equal pay for women.
The Obama campaign took the unusual step of announcing not just that it was launching the women-targeted ad, but that it would air in 10 states during the premieres of some new network prime-time shows and also on local TV and local cable on such networks as Lifetime, Oxygen, E!, HGTV and Bravo.
A spokeswoman for National Cable Communications declined to say whether the Obama campaign’s spot cable purchase was the largest to date in the 2008 race for the presidency.
McCain Also Buying Time
Meanwhile, the McCain campaign extended its buy of ABC News programming including “World News Tonight,” “Good Morning America” and “Nightline” and launched its own economy-related spots.
Darren Pieh, local sales manager for WWJ-TV, the CBS owned-and-operated station in Detroit, said political ads are approaching 15% of stations’ ad billings in the third quarter, with expectations they will hit 18% next month. The station has no local news, which means its billings may be below those of other local stations.
Michigan is a major battleground state in the presidential race.
Mr. Pieh suggested one reason spending may not be going through the roof is that the political campaigns are declining to pay extra for non-preemptable slots, gambling that the likelihood their spots will get preempted isn’t great given the economy.
Mr. Bee said the election so far has generated fewer viewer complaints than in previous races, either because viewers are more interested in the campaigns or because the ads are less negative.
“Pundits describe it as a cantankerous campaign, but at my desk it’s been rather quiet,” Mr. Bee said. “There hasn’t been as much mudslinging and I don’t get the feedback from viewers I did last time.”

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