Spring Spark Likely in Spot

Super Tuesday still looms, but results are in on local political spending. So far, it's a loser.

There could be a spring spending surge, though. As the Democratic race heats up, the Republicans are kicking off an early effort to prop up President Bush's sagging approval ratings with a $40 million to $50 million ad blitz starting in this month.

"We thought political spending would be much stronger," admits Sue Johenning, EVP/director of local broadcast, Initiative. "I understand John Edwards is saying he doesn't need money for TV because free media's doing such a good job covering him."

Jean Pool, EVP, Universal McCann/LCI, found January "very disappointing, largely because stations were expecting more political. The demand is not there, and no one is fighting for inventory." Pool sees current spot broadcast pacing at 3%.

That meshes with figures provided by Jim Beloyiannis, president, Katz Media, who notes that large markets were off 4% in January, up 11% in February, and down 5% for March, for a flat first quarter. Total markets, however, look brighter: up 2% in January, up 12% in February, and flat in March for a 4% rise in the first quarter.

Spring brings encouraging news. "There has been a spark of activity," says Jason Maltby, co-executive director, MindShare. "There are no overtly strong signs, but pacing looks to be fairly normal."

Says Allison Shapiro, VP/assistant director of local broadcast, Zenith Media, "The networks are pretty well sold, with the New York market not slow at all. And April and May are looking to be very healthy."