Obama Ready For TV Ad Blitz: TNS

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NEW YORK--Now that the conventions are in the books, TV viewers, especially those in so-called battleground states, should brace themselves for a Barack Obama blitz.

The Democratic Presidential nominee, wielding record funds from some 2 million contributors, is expected to embark on a huge multimedia campaign, heavy on spot TV and local cable. With his Republican opponent John McCain also ready to open up his more limited arsenal, plus competitive races at the Senate, House and gubernatorial levels and ballot issues aplenty, political spending should reach the $3 billion mark this year, according to Evan Tracey, COO, Campaign Media Analysis Group, TNS Media Intelligence.

Speaking here Thursday at the Television Bureau of Advertising's annual Forecast Conference, Tracey said that political spending outlays had already totaled some $800 million this year, $430 million more than at the same stage as in 2004, when the category brought in somewhere $1.7 billion to $1.8 billion.

With the election just 60 days away, the lion’s share of the dollars is ready to drop.

That’s good news for TV stations, as spot dollars account for an estimated 75% share of political spending, and is more welcome than ever given the nation’s tough economic sledding. In TVB’s forecast, group president Chris Rohrs said stations would record a flat year in 2008, even though its base businesses, buffeted by decreases in key categories, notably autos, would be off 7.4%

“We’re going to need that strong political spending,” said Rohrs.

For its part, local cable should pull in 15%-18% of the total political ad spend.

“They’ve done a really good job of letting people in Washington know about the value of the medium and its targeting capabilities,” said Tracey after the presentation.

Network cable, according to Tracey, will count somewhere between $30 million and $40 million, although total could grow, depending on whether Obama embarks on a strategy “to use as much oxygen as possible.

This year, the race for the White House is expected to yield some $460 million from the candidates on TV alone, with the Democratic hopeful expected to be responsible for two-thirds. Since McCain has opted for public financing, the GOP nominee only has some $84 million to spend on the medium between now and Nov. 4, according to Tracey.

That says nothing about the up to $175 million the parties could contribute, or the $140 million from outside groups that could become associated with the candidates’ run for residency on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Where the funds will be allocated is not perfectly clear at the moment.

Tracey called Ohio, Virginia, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, North Carolina and North Dakota the only “true battleground states,” and they figure to draw the most money. However, nine other states could come into play – with Montana, Georgia, Florida, Indiana and Missouri leaning GOP and the Michigan, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Wisconsin heading the Democratic way.

Tracey said that the more states that are up in the air would favor Obama from the perspective of his larger media arsenal, which could take in as much as $500 million to $600 million over the next two months from his 2 million contributors.

Stations and local cable systems are also counting on political ad dollars -- estimated at $220 million to $250 million -- from Senate races, where the Democrats want to secure 60 seats. TNS believes that Alaska, Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon and Virginia will be home to the most competitive Senatorial race states. The parties could kick in another $100 million

House candidates Representatives also plan to use TV heavily, with TNS projecting spending in the $200 million and $240 million range. Here, TNS points to contests in Arizona, Connecticut, Indiana, Ohio, New York, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia driving the ad outlays. The GOP and the Democrats might add another $100 million to $160 million to the TV media mix.

At the state and local level, TNS projects spending could reach $1.05 billion between gubernatorial battles ($110 million), ballots ($230 million), judges/attorney generals ($60 million), issues ($400 million) and other ($250 million). 

One place where ad dollars aren’t flowing in any truly meaningful way is the Web.

“This is the sixth cycle that was supposed to be the Internet election,” said Tracey, noting that the Presidential race would only yield between $7 million and $10 million, and all other races between $3 million and $5 million.

“There hasn’t been a lot of banner and display advertising. Most of it has come from search,” said Tracey, noting that most of the action with this medium is complete. “At this point, you’re not going to change many more minds and the fund-raising [outreach] has been finalized.”