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Obama Inauguration Draws Online Advertising

Finding Local Angles at Obama Inauguration
BET, TV One Gear Up for Historic Inauguration 

Tuesday's momentous Inauguration Day is giving broadcasters the opportunity to bag some scarce ad coin, and cross-platform marketers a chance to borrow some positive equity in a rare upbeat news cycle.

Technology advertisers are expected to have a big presence on Jan. 20, given President-elect Barack Obama's enthusiasm for the Web. More importantly, since the inauguration pomp and circumstance will be occurring during the workday, the event gives advertisers a chance to test cross-platform media strategies. It's likely that the occupants of the nation's corporate cubicles will turn to the Web to watch the festivities. The question is how many.

A few advertisers are taking advantage. Sprint and Cisco are among CNN's top-tier advertisers on Inauguration Day, with both companies opting for integrated buys on both TV and online platforms. CNN's coverage began on Jan. 17 with Obama's train ride from Philadelphia. Oil giant Exxon Mobil is the third major marketer to appear on CNN's coverage alongside a slew of non-traditional CNN advertisers. Those include music company EMI, which hasn't been on the network since 1999, and beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev. Pepsi is also expected to have a big presence on news networks this week., the video player backed by NBC Universal and News Corp., sold its inauguration feed (provided by Fox) to Sony Pictures to promote its movie Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Ad buyers said that package was pitched at $25,000. ABC News plans to embed its feed on the homepage, a first for the network. Audi is sponsoring that coverage.

Says Greg D'Alba, executive VP and COO for CNN Ad Sales: “Until the first quarter 2008, the digital side was primarily fueled by content integration, but beginning in the first quarter [2009], we saw strong demand for digital only.”

'Beyond Traditional TV'

Obama television events have been magnets for viewers—the 60 Minutes interview with Obama on Nov. 16 attracted 25 million viewers, the show's largest audience in nearly a decade. The big unknown for ad buyers is just how many will be streaming the event online or watching it on TV. The hope is that the streams are on par with, say, a sports event like the NCAA's “March Madness” basketball tournament, which notched about 15 million streams when it was first offered for free by CBS in 2006.

According to Chris Allen, VP of video innovation at Starcom, “It's exciting for people to think about being involved with the inauguration. One positive is that the coverage is pervasive, and advertisers will be looking for that halo effect.”

Even tougher to gauge will be the potential TV viewership. Ad buyers have been picking up inventory around news programming. “This is beyond traditional TV,” says Steve Sternberg, executive VP of audience analysis at media agency Magna. “It is a much bigger event than any previous inauguration. You could take a cue from the Democratic Convention.”

Horizon Media research chief Brad Adgate notes that because Inauguration Day immediately follows the Martin Luther King holiday, many viewers might call in sick and stay home to watch the coverage. “I think there will be a lot of viewing that will go unmeasured,” he says. “There will be a lot of co-viewing and viewing on different platforms outside the home in restaurants, gyms and hotels. This is going to be a very historic moment.”

Ira Berger, director of national broadcasting at The Richards Group, which counts Bridgestone tires among its clients, says he is curious to discover whether viewers will choose to share the historic moment with the broadcast network news departments or turn instead to cable news channels. On Election Night, ABC topped the ratings charts, followed closely by CNN and NBC.

But he was less certain that ratings will be significant on any platform, perhaps reflecting the feelings of those who didn't vote for the President-elect. “I'm based in Dallas,” Berger notes, “and with very rare exceptions, I don't see people excited about being glued to their TV screens. It's not exactly the Super Bowl.”