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The voting is still 13 months away, but one winner has already emerged from the 2012 election season -- cable news. With loosened campaign laws allowing candidates and Political Action Committess to raise more money than ever before, the rising tide of money is already being felt on TV, especially at channels where politics is a big part of the programming.
The early money is coming from corporate sponsors that think election coverage is a good environment for their marketing messages. The networks are also beginning to see spending from issues advertisers and may end up seeing campaign spending from national candidates.
MSNBC says its revenue in the upfront was 50% higher than during the 2010-11 upfront. And before the fourthquarter scatter market had officially started, the network had already written more fourth-quarter scatter business than it did all of last year, says David Barrington, VP of ad sales for MSNBC.
"To grow revenue by 50% will give you an indication as to the recognition among clients, planners and buyers that this is going to be the second most historic election in our country's history," Barrington says. "There are a lot of interesting debates to be had, a lot of interesting discussions to be had, and this is content you want to be around."
Barrington notes that ratings are up signi! cantly from where they were at the beginning of the last presidential election cycle. And millions of viewers are already tuning into special events, such as the recent Republican candidate debates.
Greg D'Alba, COO of CNN ad sales, says he's expecting a bigger bump in ad revenue than the network experienced in the previous presidential election cycle. The network also saw so much demand that it wrapped up its upfront before the general market got done, generating record revenue.
"Who would have thought that four years later it could be even more exciting than 2008, and that's kind of where we're heading," D'Alba says.
Fox News Channel declined to comment.
D'Alba says CNN has already sold six major election packages. He declined to name the sponsors, but said they're in the automotive, technology and energy categories.
CNN's campaign packages include debates, conventions, town halls, primary results and election night, and are worth millions of dollars. "Our sponsorships are integrated," D'Alba says. "They're buying TV, they're buying digital, they're buying mobile."
During the upfront, MSNBC also sold a number of campaign sponsorships, some at a gold level, some at a silver level. "The crux of what's encapsulated in the packages is a unique and custom billboard sponsorship that only the election sponsors will have, so they'll really stand out," Barrington says.
The sponsorships include programming ranging from MSNBC's Morning Joe to the network's primetime hosted shows and events such as debates and primaries, all leading up to NBC's broadcast coverage on Nov. 6, 2012, from Election Plaza at 30 Rock.
Barrington says the network didn't see a lot of ad dollars from the candidates themselves in 2008, although it did during one of the recent debates. It is expecting to do more business from PACs with issue ads.
"There are a lot of issue ads, advocacy ads around the issues that are being spoken of day in and day out that are spending significant sums, and we fully anticipate that going forward [that] will do nothing but ramp up," he says.
CNN is also starting to see an uptick in advocacy advertising, and D'Alba anticipates the healthcare and energy categories will be big players in that arena.
He also expects candidates to try to piggyback on CNN's content as it moves via social media and asserts CNN has an advantage there because it reaches more undecided viewers.
"In 2008, you saw more candidate advertising going to a national platform than ever before," D'Alba says. "I'm anticipating we're going to see that progression in 2012."
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