Cable Pockets Healthy Share of Political Ad Dollars

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Cable appears to have attracted 18 to 20% of the overall advertising spend by the candidates for president, according to Tim Kay, director of political strategy for National Cable Communications, which sells spot cable space for owners Comcast Corp., Cox Communications and Time Warner Cable.

He estimated that cable also got 15 to 18% of the advertising for Congressional and local races. He added the caveat that the agency will not have final figures until after the election, when NCC will also gather local ad sales information from member companies.

Evan Tracey, founder and COO of Campaign Media Analysis Group, put those predictions into dollar values. In September, he predicted that the political ad spend will top out at about $3 billion, with $500 million of that spend on media other than broadcast television.

Cable has attracted a good share of the political ad share because campaigns, from local propositions and initiatives to state representative races, are attracted by the industry’s ability to microtarget messages, he said.

But cable is splitting some of the non-broadcast buy with radio, he said. Local radio is “back in vogue,” he said, noting that in Washington D.C., Republican contender Sen. John McCain bought radio instead of television.

By the end of last week, broadcasters in the swing states, including Ohio, Florida, Colorado and New Mexico “were saturated,” Tracey said, and campaigns had begun buying as much ad availabilities in Kentucky, North Carolina and Georgia as they could.

Ad spending has surged this cycle despite the lack of outside groups, such as the Swift Boat veterans who opposed the John Kerry campaign last season. Tracey said donations were made directly to candidates instead, plus the souring economy impacted the rise of interest groups as an advertising factor.

Kay said he couldn’t estimate at this time whether Democratic contender Sen. Barack Obama, who began spending in targeted states in earnest on cable in July, or McCain had bought more cable time through the end of the campaign.

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