President Barack Obama’s team used cable TV to outmaneuver Mitt Romney’s campaign in the final days before the election, according to a Reuters analysis. With polls showing a tight race, Obama’s campaign exploited cable TV’s diverse lineup to target women on channels such as Food Network and Lifetime and men on networks such as ESPN. Obama’s team used the fragmentation of cable TV’s audience to target tailored messages to voters in battleground states. Romney’s campaign relied on a more traditional mass saturation of broadcast TV. The Romney camp was entirely dark on cable TV for two of the campaign’s last seven days, according to the analysis. “We don’t know why. This was a week before the election and you’re in the fight for your life,” said Timothy Kay, political director for cable industry consortium NCC Media.
If you hate political ads, then I have bad news for you: Next year, White House and congressional candidates will flood television and other media with campaign messages as the 2012 election shapes up as the most expensive in history. Democrats and Republicans are already squeezing contributors because spending will soar as this is the first election in more than a decade without limits on corporate and union contributions. TV stations will benefit most: In 2010 about 75% of ad budgets went to broadcast TV vs. 7.9% for cable and 4.3% for Web destinations, according to PQ Media. But a lot could change this time out. Here are some of the key questions:
How much will be spent on advertising? It’ll be a record, but there’s no consensus on the likely total. Research firm Washington Analysis projects $4 billion, up from $3.2 billion in 2010 and $2.6 billion in 2008. Moody’s Investors Service says spending in 2012 could rise as much as 18% vs 2010 in “an unprecedented frenzy.” That strikes some as too high in a year with few gubernatorial races and — unlike in 2008 — no contest for the Democratic presidential nomination. “I don’t think it’s going to be a whole lot bigger than 2010,” says Jack Poor, who tracks political spending for the Television Bureau of Advertising. “If I were to take a wild guess, I’d say 10%.”
Will cable operators take political ads from broadcast TV? Hope springs eternal among cable companies. They say that their ability to target messages to communities makes them more cost effective than TV stations that transmit to a large region. But politicos don’t seem to agree. “If you add those (local) areas up it isn’t necessarily less expensive than (it is) to buy the whole market” on broadcast TV, former Obama political advisor David Axelrod told cable executives recently. Former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie says much the same thing: “If the president has $1 billion to spend, he’ll buy American Idol and NCIS. And our candidate will be buying the Cooking Channel in Akron, Ohio.” Cable executives say they may have to eat those words. “I don’t know what (Axelrod) is talking about,” says Andrew Capone of NCC Media -– the local cable ad sales firm owned by Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox. “Every single year more money has flowed to spot cable.”
What about the Internet? Candidates are intrigued. Locally focused sites “will see a significant increase from a low dollar base,” says Kathleen Keefe, Hearst Television’s VP of sales.