There’s been no upturn yet in this infamous ad market — unless you’re in New York, that is, where newly minted Republican Michael Bloomberg has breathed some life into Gotham broadcasters.
The mogul-who-would-be-mayor has spent, by some accounts, nearly $15 million on NYC media since he kicked off his campaign in June. As much as $10 million has flowed to TV stations, which have been squeezed by a sluggish economy and weak advertising.
“It’s certainly been a bit of a spurt, more than we anticipated. It’s a nice, little hit this year,” says Julio Marenghi, manager of sales at Gotham’s WNBC.
(WNBC and WABC have thus far garnered the lion’s share of Bloomberg dollars with 30%-35% apiece according to some industryites.)
It won’t cure the plunge in dot-com ads or the dip in auto and other categories amid a climate of lower corporate earnings and widespread layoffs, but it sure helps.
Bloomberg’s spending (he’s reportedly earmarked a whopping $25 million for the campaign) is unprecedented considering he’s running for city, not statewide office. Incumbent Rudy Guiliani spent $11.8 million in the last mayoral race.
People close to Bloomberg call the figure is overstated and say he has spent $10 million tops on his campaign so far and never publicly predicted the total.
“He’s of the mindset that if it takes $25 (million), he’ll spend $25 (million). If it takes $15 (million), he’ll spend $15 (million),” said one.
Regardless, it’s chump change for a guy whose personal fortune is estimated at $4.5 billion.
At this rate, Bloomberg looks set to top current record holder, billionaire Ron Lauder, who unloaded $14 million only to lose the 1989 GOP mayoral primary.
The polls don’t give Bloomberg much of a shot of occupying Gracie Mansion, but happily for local media, he does have a good shot (unlike Lauder) at winning the GOP primary against struggling, underfunded Herman Badillo. Slim competition likely prompted Bloomberg to shift from Democrat to Republican last year — and it will help keep him and his wallet in the race for the duration.
So far Bloomberg has outspent all other candidates combined, including Badillo and four Dems vying to fill Giuliani’s shoes: Mark Green, Fernando Ferrer, Alan Hevesi and Peter Vallone — all of whom jumped into the ad pool only recently. Station owners are praying that no Dem gets 40% of the vote Sept. 11 since that will mean a runoff and fierce spending.
“That would be the icing on the cake,” says Greg Schaefer, veep and station manager at WCBS.
Politics is often a nourishing staple for Gotham broadcasters. Last year, John Corzine, multimillionaire former co-chairman of Goldman Sachs, spent $20 million of his own money in nabbing a New Jersey Senate seat.
“I think Bloomberg is trying to make us forget John Corzine,” said a pleased Scott Simensky, general sales manager for WABC.
Opening the wallets
Also last year, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rick Lazio pulled out the stops in the New York Senate race that Clinton won. TV execs anticipate the current New Jersey gubernatorial race (Dem James McGreevey vs. Republican Bret Schundler) could prove a lucrative nail-biter.
But now, Bloomberg has center stage.
“He’s been spending to get his name out. People don’t know him,” Marenghi noted.
Regular New Yorkers might not, but Wall Streeters and media types are quite familiar with the ubiquitous black Bloomberg box that spews financial data, and the news service with bureaus around the world. Ventures in TV, radio and magazines also bear the Bloomberg name.
Bloomberg resigned as chairman of his privately held company in March but remains CEO. While he’s no Silvio Berlusconi (the right-wing media tycoon recently elected prime minister of Italy), it’s not clear if or how he plans to distance himself from his media holdings if he wins.
For New Yorkers who want a lower-key and more familiar media entity for mayor — there’s always Kenny Kramer. The standup comic and inspiration for “Seinfeld” buddy Cosmo Kramer is running on the Libertarian ticket.