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Sandy Puts Candidate Rallies on Hold, But Campaign Ads Don’t Let Up

Romney-jeep-ad-cropped-proto-custom_28Hurricane
Sandy sidelined President Obama and Mitt Romney’s campaign plans, but in
the final stretch of election 2012, TV stations in battleground states
will still see an unprecedented advertising bonanza, to the point of
scarcity in some dayparts.

Even if
campaigns temper their message out of respect for the victims of the
devastation, station groups expect to reap record sums for political
spots, campaign consultants stand to earn big rewards whether their
candidate wins or loses, and viewers will find themselves satiated, or
even numbed, by an endless onslaught of negative messaging. It’s raised
questions of whether all of the advertising has reached a point of
saturation, particularly in the final seven days and especially with a
major news event bumping 24/7 election coverage from lead news
headlines.

“Obviously, Mother Nature threw
a little bit of a monkey wrench at the entire political ad community,”
said Dan Sinagoga, vice president of political advertising for Comcast
Spotlight, the local TV and online sales division of the cable giant.

“I
have heard rumblings that due to the sensitivities in the East, a
couple of campaigns may not do as significant” of an ad push, he said.
“There are concerns of do they want to take a bad PR hit by over
inundating the airwaves? I think by tomorrow we will have an idea of
whether they take a positive PR route and rachet it back.”

Nevertheless,
he said that Monday was the second largest billing day of this election
cycle, and he expected heavy volume on Tuesday and Wednesday.

That
is because there is a scramble for placement in the most desirable
dayparts, like local evening newscasts. Campaigns are now reaching the
point where too many dollars are chasing too little time. By law,
stations have to prioritize time for candidates, selling them time at
the lowest market rate, forcing some channels to bump traditional
advertisers. Yet what happens when all of the ad time is given to
candidates and that priority treatment? That’s what has begun to happen
in certain dayparts at NBC’s affiliate in Las Vegas.

“I
am expanding breaks as much as I can without driving viewers completely
crazy,” said Lisa Howfield, vice president and general manager of KSNV,
which has added 30-seconds to some breaks.

She
said that the ad spending “is not only more than four years ago, but it
is more than two years ago, which we thought would never happen again.”

A
difference this cycle is that campaigns are reaching more into all
parts of the day. For example, a popular place for spots at KSNV has
been during “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “Late Night with Jimmy
Fallon” and even “Last Call with Carson Daly,” as campaigns target
younger audiences.

While she’s mindful of
not alienating regular advertisers, Howfield said that the political
windfall “is the shot that we needed.

“If businesses are struggling, broadcast stations are struggling. We have had some difficult years.”

According
to a Wells Fargo analysis of figures from the Campaign media Analysis
Group, as of mid-October, total local TV political spending neared $1.65
billion. The final figure is expected to approach $3 billion. CBS, News
Corp., CBS, Sinclair, NBC Universal, Gray Television and LIN among
those that have benefited the most. Some estimates are that total
spending across all media could reach $5 billion.

The
uptick is most apparent in the presidential race. According to
the Wesleyan Media project, more than 915,000 ads aired on broadcast and
national cable TV from June 1 through Oct. 21, a 44.5% jump from the
2008 cycle.

“It is unbelievable; I have
never seen anything like it,” said Bob Prather, president and COO of
Gray Television, which has 36 stations in 30 markets, including ones in
Ohio, Florida, Colorado, Michigan and North Carolina and Wisconsin.

He said that the advertising started earlier — and has been heavier — than they thought.

The
sales at their Reno station “is way off the charts,” he said, while
their Madison affiliate is benefiting not just from being in a swing
state, but having a competitive Senate campaign as well as the
gubernatorial recall in June. The additional political coin will enable
Gray “to pay down a lot more debt than we thought, faster than we
planned.”

Stations have seen a crunch in
local newscast inventory, Prather said, and they have been trying to
entice campaigns to consider the option of digital channels at lower
prices.

As of yet, he has not heard of
campaigns pulling back in response to the storm, but “even if they cut
back for a day or two they will probably make up for it.”

He
also said that campaigns have gotten wiser about how they spend their
money in the final week of the campaign, with where they place their
money viewed as much as a competitive strategy as it may be a way to
cloud their gameplan in the eyes of their opponents. The Obama campaign,
for instance, “has jumped back into Wisconsin,” with plans for a
$300,000 to $400,000 buy, Prather said. Meanwhile, his station manager
in Greenville, N.C. told him that the Obama campaign informed him about a
week ago that they might pull ads. “I frankly haven’t heard whether
they did or not,” Prather said.

So what happens next year?

Political spending undoubtedly will be down — but it won’t be non-existent.

Kip
Cassino, executive vice president of Borrell Associates, which tracks
local advertising, said that “some of it will not stop.

“We
have developed an industry out of political advertising,” he said. “You
are almost going to see a neverending campaign, a continuous flow of
issue ads, PAC ads.”

The result has been a
marked increase in the cost of elections, at all levels. Even though
stations can only charge candidates the lower market rate, the New York
Times reported this week that even that has done up this season.

Cassino
doubts that campaigns will pull many ad spots in response to the storm,
for a simple, tit for tat reason: “They are afraid their competitor is
going to get the available time.”

“There
has been almost an unceasing demand for more airtime,” he added.
“Unfortunately, the stations can’t manufacture more hours of the day.”

 Photo from Romney auto ad implying that Chrysler is moving jobs to China.

 

 

 

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