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Cable Advertising Hopes to Get Politically Correct

Las Vegas -- Cable’s pursuit of billions of dollars in 2008 political-campaign advertising may be stymied by what one national-campaign strategist called a “massive lack of flexibility” in the way operators handle the placement and airing of spots.

That’s how political media advisor Kyle Roberts described frustrations common to campaign media strategists, who say cable pales in comparison to over-the-air television in adapting to the urgency and scheduling needs of campaigns that often change out spots on the fly.

Roberts, president of Smart Media Group, said close to $1.1 billion of the $2.1 billion in advertising tied to 2006 elections was spent in the final 30 days leading up to the election. Local-cable-advertising organizations need to be better prepared to deal with a flurry of traffic instructions and copy changes that typify political advertising, he added.

But Roberts and other panelists who spoke at a Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau session at The Cable Show ’07 here also lathered praise on cable advertising for its ability to reach voters in important geographic regions and to target supposed swing voters who can influence outcomes. “Cable is the best tool for political advertising,” Roberts said.

Also praising cable’s ad-targeting capabilities was Fred Davis, a Los Angeles-based media strategist who advised George W. Bush on his 2006 campaign and now orchestrates media strategy for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in his presidential bid. Davis, too, likes cable’s ability to influence swing voters.

“We literally have a Brinks truck ready to back up to your door,” Davis said, adding that cable advertising organizations must improve their ability to clear sufficient inventory for political spots and to handle rapid-fire copy changes more adroitly.

Industry executives on the panel generally defended their practices, with panelists and audience members alike indicating that they routinely change out 30-second commercials within hours of instruction. The failings of a few providers in certain markets may be tainting overall impressions among buyers, the executives said.

Hank Oster, corporate senior vice president and general manager for Comcast Spotlight, said his company made a concerted effort to gear up for the 2006 elections by assigning political-category specialists in all of its markets, working harder to establish easily discernable spot rates for the category and working side-by-side with traffic managers to handle last-second schedule changes.

Oster added that the industry and Comcast Spotlight have work still to do, and he called for a sort of Bill of Rights associated with the political category so that cable providers can foster more confidence in political ad buyers.

Oster said he thinks political ad spending could top $3 billion in 2008. “Shame on us as an industry if we don’t step up and grab 20%,” he added.