Political Dollars Shift to Cable

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Nine months ago, Brian Davis, Cox Media’s national sales manager, would have predicted the bulk of the MSO’s political ad sales dollars would come from state and local campaigns. But last week Davis was said the majority of the ad sales generated during this election year are actually coming from the national presidential campaigns of Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain. Obama is the No. 1 political advertiser with Cox this year, followed by McCain.

Clearly, cable operators are making it easier for all political campaigns to buy advertising, Davis said. Cox, for instance, adheres to all Federal Communications Commission political advertising regulations to provide standards that campaigns can count on when making media buys.

“We have always delivered the same standards as the broadcasters when it comes to political media purchases,” he said. “The same rules that apply to broadcasters apply to us.”

It’s taken the industry awhile for the industry to convince political ad buyers that cable is an effective medium and easy to work with, Davis said. But this year, the industry in general -- Canoe, for instance, has been offering on-demand advertising for political campaigns and National Cable Communications, the national spot cable firm representing the bulk of the industry, guides political advertisers through the complex and ever-changing world of television -- has made great strides in making it easy for campaigns to buy ads on cable. At the same time, operators have been hard at work tweaking and fine-tuning their own businesses to lure political business.

Cox Media made sure it had processes and procedures in place to accommodate last-minute insertions and changes so campaigns could take advantage of the prevailing political winds. The company hasn’t seen as many last-minute changes with political ads as in years past and Davis said it may be because political ad agencies are more sophisticated and educated to cable advertising and its benefits.

Even though agencies have become more familiar with cable, Cox Media has a select number of account executives in each market that are experts on political advertising. Each region is different, depending on its local elections or whether it is in a battleground state.

“Our opportunities are all geographically driven,” Davis said. “In some respects we have to be reactionary to political sales because we can’t control which states are battleground states or which states have more ballot initiatives. We have to be prepared for it all. Generally, candidates will concentrate their media buys on a specific number of networks, which isn’t a problem because in some markets we insert on a many as 75 channels so we have all kinds of options for them.”

So far, the tactics have worked. “We’re seeing some significant gains this year compared to what we’ve generated in the past. We’ve also seen gains compared to the broadcasters,” Davis said. “Of course, it’s difficult to compare the mid-year election in 2006 with what we’re seeing this year, but we are pleased.” Davis expects the last 20 days of the campaign to heat up, noting that the number of requests for ad placement is already on the rise.

Also helping Cox this year is the fact that the MSO is operating in some states that haven’t been in past been considered pivotal to presidential candidates, but have become battleground states in this election.

Nevada, for example, where Cox operates a large Las Vegas system, has become a major battleground state for 2008. That is quite different from years past when Nevada was clearly a “flyover” state that received little attention or ad dollars from the candidates’ campaigns.

In just the week of Sept. 28-Oct. 4, Obama spent $616,000 in Nevada while McCain spent $329,000, according to the Wisconsin Advertising Project. Between Sept. 28-Oct. 4, McCain ran a total 712 ads in Las Vegas; Obama ran 1,288 total ads, according to the Wisconsin Advertising Project, which doesn’t break out ads for broadcast and cable.

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