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Cable's Campaign Push

Cable will significantly increase its share of campaign ad dollar revenues in 2008, analysts and cable ad advocates agree. Another point of agreement: Cable still lags far behind broadcasting in the grab for its part of the multibillion-dollar pot.

While cable has done a better job of selling its targeting advantages to political operators, analysts say, it still has some work to do to overturn broadcast's considerable edge.

According to progressive think tank New Politics Institute (NPI), Democrats plunked down $10 on broadcast ads for every dollar they spent on cable in 2006. That figure was a vast rise over the 18 to 1 broadcast-to-cable ratio in 2004, when cable earned only an $80 million slice of the total $1.5 billion ad-buying pie.

The figures are still trending upward, says NPI. In 2008, research firm PQ Media predicts that broadcast TV will rake in more than $2.2 billion in campaign spending, a 46% gain over 2006.

As for cable's share, Evan Tracey, chief operating officer for the Campaign Media Analysis Group of TNS Media Intelligence, which tracks campaign advertising, estimates cable in 2008 taking anywhere from 12%-18% of the TV total. That would put the wired medium's share of both Democratic and Republican dollars at between $250 million and $400 million, leaving broadcast TV with most of the pot but cable still stirring.

Tracey cautions that this is a rough estimate, pointing to the difficulty in collecting data. “The problem with cable from a tracking standpoint is that you have multiple systems throughout each media market,” he says.

NPI Director Peter Leyden believes cable may top that 18% figure. Leyden, who has long advocated more cable spending by candidates, also says the picture is too murky to make solid predictions.

Tracey ascribes his claim for a higher cable ad total in part to the industry's improvement in selling itself to political strategists. “The local cable guys have done an exceptional job of helping political consultants better understand cable and its power,” he says.

And they have the figures to back it up, says Danielle DeLauro, VP of sales and marketing for the Cable Advertising Bureau. She points out that 65% of the TV audience watches ad-supported cable.

It would seem to be a pretty compelling story. Spots cost less than broadcast and can be more geographically targeted.

In an advisory to progressive Democratic groups, NPI argued that for the same reason billions of dollars of nonpolitical advertising had shifted to cable—more people now watched cable channels than broadcast and the ads could be better targeted—more political dollars should be moving there, too.

As for the continued gap in spending, Leyden says it goes beyond not understanding or being aware of the value of cable, which is a case of a learning curve that takes time. “Another side of it is the media consultants who are getting big commissions for placing ads in broadcast, [and] had a disincentive to do the extra work to be more targeted,” he says.

Tracey also points to the logistical problems of a buy scattered over a couple of hundred cable systems rather than a handful of TV stations.

But helping cable's cause have been the campaigns of Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, the biggest buyers of national cable, according to Tracey. It began last summer, he says, with Romney trying to build national name recognition through cable network buys. Tracey says the bunching of primaries on Super Tuesday (Feb. 5) has led both to buy national cable as well.

DeLauro thinks cable operators have also aided themselves this time around by taking what she terms “the pledge.”

At a September conference in Washington on political advertising, cable operators pledged to take steps to make it easier for campaigns to buy the medium, including agreeing to accept issue advertising. They also promised to provide make-goods for missed spots within 24 hours.

Leyden agrees that this may have helped matters: “It was harder to buy, dealing with all these little cable networks and systems,” he says. Local cable has become easier to buy, he adds, but the perception persisted and has become a process of educating buyers: “Pledges of uniformity, transparency and ease of use are very helpful.”

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