Candidates Target Cable for Midterm Races

Cable saw strong a turnout among political campaign-ad buyers this midterm election season, helped by numerous close races for governor and senator and by candidates using selected cable networks, rather than just by buying ads on local newscasts, industry ad sellers said.

While total political-ad spending is lower when there’s no presidential election, cable is likely to bank as much in 2014 in ads as it did during the 2012 season, Dan Sinagoga, vice president of political advertising at Comcast Spotlight, the top cable company’s ad-sales division, said.

That’s been largely at the expense of local broadcasters, according to Sinagoga. He said the cable industry’s share of dollars spent on political ads will hit about 30% this cycle, continuing a trend that saw it take more than 20% in 2012.

Comcast also added more possible commercial minutes to the mix this time around by freeing up some of the “avails” — the 2 minutes per hour typically allotted to local ads — that would normally go to promoting its triple play, high-speed Internet or other services. “It will help us keep easily five to eight million additional dollars that we probably wouldn’t have been able to fit traditionally,” Sinagoga said.

Headed into this non-presidential election cycle, advertising tracker Borrell Associates had predicted cable networks would do $719.3 million in political ads. That would be 46% more than in the last midterm races, in 2010 ($492.7 million).

Tim Kay, director of political strategy at cable operator-owned NCC Media, cited Kantar Media’s forecast of $600 million to $800 million in local cable ad sales and said, “We’re definitely on the latter part of that number,” or above $700 million, headed into Election Day on Tuesday (Nov 4).

“What’s interesting is, we’ve run more commercials, as of two weeks ago, than in all of 2012,” he said.

Kay said most ads are still flowing to the big three favorites of Fox News Channel, CNN and ESPN. “But we’re seeing a lot of non-traditional networks pop up, such as TV Land and Bravo,” he added.

NCC bought a schedule of ads from CNN in October, which helped expand the inventory beyond the local-avail minutes. Kay would not reveal sales specifics but he said the number of political ads NCC placed on CNN were up from both 2012 and 2010.

Sports events have been big among political buyers, Kay said, especially National Football League games.

Sinagoga said Comcast saw gains on non-traditional political-ad outlets such as Animal Planet and Oxygen. “One of our hottest networks this year has been Hallmark [Channel], and that was never the case leading into 2012.”

As for hot markets, NCC’s Kay said noticeable spikes have come in Omaha, Neb., due to the state’s race for governor; in Colorado, with close contests for governor and U.S. senator; and in North Carolina, which has a tightly-contested U.S. Senate race.

Colorado, Texas (especially during this year’s primary elections), Illinois, Michigan, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Arkansas were all significant for Comcast this year, Sinagoga said.

Comcast also added an element to the on-demand programming mix this time by dynamically inserting advertising into programs addressed to individual households, Sinagoga said. That was a first step toward what the company expects will be household address-ability across its national footprint by the time the 2016 campaigns roll around. That “niche” product did well in Virginia, Florida, New Hampshire and Colorado, he said, and “is going to be a seven-figure addition to our overall pie.”

Kent Gibbons

Kent has been a journalist, writer and editor at Multichannel News since 1994 and with Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He is a good point of contact for anything editorial at the publications and for Before joining Multichannel News he had been a newspaper reporter with publications including The Washington Times, The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal and North County News.