Political Ads Pinch Holiday Spots

As candidates rev up their publicity campaigns during the holiday season, stations are juggling their inventory.

Broadcasters are expecting 2008 to be a banner year for political advertising, with spending expected to be in the $2-2.5 billion range. With an open field of candidates, relaxed rules for issue advertising and a primary season that started far earlier than past elections, the money has already started to flow.

Operators in key battleground states such as Iowa and New Hampshire are the early beneficiaries of the political spending spree because the large field of candidates is not likely to be whittled down until after the first round of primaries. But with the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3 and the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 8, pols competing for airtime can box out traditional advertisers in the middle of the holiday season.

“We are sort of in uncharted waters here,” says Jon Swallen, VP of research for TNS Media Intelligence, “We’ve never had a primary schedule that was this accelerated, which brings it into closer competition with the holidays.”

Stations selling political airtime must give equal opportunity to all candidates and offer the lowest unit rate. This holiday season, that’s displaced non-political advertisers.

“We’ve had a lot of political demand and that has caused some preemptions,” says Dave Porepp, general sales manager of KCCI Des Moines. “In areas like prime where you have limited inventory, that will create some tension.”

Porepp says the station has been able to accommodate non-political advertisers in alternate spots, noting that advertisers understand that this is going to happen in Iowa.

Political spending has been a more acute hassle at WMUR Manchester, N.H., according to General Sales Manager Gerry McGavick.

The station’s volume is heavier than those in bigger states where there are more markets and more stations, and the ratings points are spread around. In Manchester, “Trying to balance that with our regular advertisers is a pretty big challenge,” McGavick says.