2009 is shaping up to be a “record breaker” in political ad money for TV stations, says Evan Tracey of the Campaign Media Analysis Group. Heavy spending on the debate over heath care and energy reform by advocacy groups could boost stations’ political take to $600 million, up 40% from 2007 and 27% from 2005.
Revenue-starved TV stations may find a little extra nourishment this year from political advertising, one of the few categories that continues to grow and favor TV stations above all other media.
It could be a “record breaker” for an off-political year, says Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which closely tracks ad spending by candidates and political advocacy groups.
“On the issue side alone, there are a lot of big ticket items out there and the early start to 2010 [campaigning] makes me very optimistic that we could surpass historical totals,” he says.
Total political spending for 2009 could approach $1 billion, with TV stations or local spot taking approximately $600 million, he says.
That would represent a record for TV stations in odd-numbered years when campaigning for public office at all government levels is a shadow of what it is during even numbered years.
And it would represent a 40 percent increase over the $428.4 million taken in 2007 and a 27 percent increase over the $473.4 million of 2005.
Through June 27, TV stations have taken in $171 million, according to Tracey. But 70 percent of the spending typically comes between Labor Day and Election Day.
“It’s coming,” Tracey says. “There are going to be some very busy TV stations out there with this advertising.”
What’s driving the increased spending is issue advertising generated by the debate surrounding President Obama’s push for energy and health care reform.
But Tracey believes the numbers may also be swelled as groups try to influence the outcome of ballot initiatives in Ohio, Maine and Washington and as candidates in 2010 get an early start on their TV campaigns late this year.
“This is a business that continues to see longer advertising cycles and more expensive advertising cycles,” he says.
So far, most of the political spending has been national.
Cable and broadcast networks have already taken in $308.3 million for 2009, exceeding their total of $301 million in 2007 and $134.2 million in 2005, according to Tracey.
But he expects ad dollars will shift to local broadcasters as the congressional debate over the president’s legislative agenda heats up and advocacy groups, labor unions and affected industries start to target individual lawmakers.
“If you are in a state that has a moderate Democratic or Republican senator you stand to gain an awful lot of issue advocacy money,” he says.
Health Care for America Now, which supports President Obama’s health care plan, is one source of such money.
It has already spent $2.7 million on local broadcast and cable. The spending includes a 10-day flight in June that targeted key senators in Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon and Washington.
More buys are planned, says HCAN spokeswoman Jacki Schechner. “By the time we’re all done, we’ll have spent about $11 million,” she says.
On the other side of the health care debate is Patients First. The group is targeting senators in Virginia, Indiana, Nebraska, Louisiana, South Dakota, Arkansas, Montana, North Dakota, Nevada, Alaska, Colorado, and Delaware.
In July, it spent $1.3 million to air a spot on TV stations and cable systems urging senators to “oppose any legislation that imposes greater government control over my health care that would mean fewer choices for me and my family and even deny treatment to those in need.”
Numerous groups have weighed in before and after the House passed the controversial Waxman-Markey energy bill in June.
In May, the Alliance for Climate Protection, which supports the legislation, ran spots on TV stations in 12 states, including Arkansas, California, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
The National Republican Congressional Committee went after Democratic Congressman Thomas Perriello for supporting the energy measure.
To reach the first-term congressman’s constituents, the NRCC’s ad ran over the July 4 recess on WSLS Roanoke, Va., an NBC affiliate owned by Media General.
The NRCC’s campaign also used radio and automated phone calls targeting 14 other House members. Perriello was the only TV buy.
But there’s a “good likelihood” that the NRCC will make future station buys especially during Congress’ August recess, says NRCC spokesman Andy Sere.
Responding to the NRCC campaign, Americans United for Change hit the airwaves defending Perriello and others who help pass the Waxman-Markey bill.
Its campaign was a mix of national cable and TV station buys in markets including Cleveland; Cincinnati; Columbus, Ohio; Lansing, Mich.; Denver; Louisville, Ky.; Lexington, K.Y.; Syracuse, N.Y.; Pittsburgh; Roanoke, Va.; and Detroit.
In June, the MidAmerican Energy Co., which is taking issue with some aspects of the Waxman-Markey measure, also placed ads on stations in several Iowa markets including Cedar Rapids-Waterloo-Dubuque, Des Moines, Davenport and Sioux City.
More local TV ad buys are anticipated. “You bet, if the need arises,” says Jon Miller with Flynn, Wright, which is the ad agency representing Mid-American.
Not all the advocacy money has been flowing into local media.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association and Families USA, for instance, launched a three-week national ad campaign on June 30 during the July 4 recess. The spots are airing on CNN, Fox and MSNBC.
And there are no plans at this point for a local TV buy, says Dave Lemmon, communications director for Families USA.
“But in the future we’ll be looking at other opportunities. We never say never to anything,” says Lemmon.
Conservatives for Patients Rights has also concentrated on a national buys on CNN and Fox News Channel with some local cable spots.
CPR opposes the president’s health care reform proposal and is hoping to score points with senators in 11 states: Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and Virginia.
CPR spokesman Brian Burgess won’t comment on where the group will be directing its money in the upcoming months. But, he says, “we are not going away. We’ll be here as long as that takes.”
The year is not without some high-profile elections that will generate some extra revenue for stations in a few markets.
Stations in Virginia and Washington, for instance, have already benefitted from the battle for the state house, which incumbent Tim Kaine must vacate this year after his one term as govenor.
State Senator Creigh Deeds won a three-way race for the Democratic nomination and he will square off against the Republican entry, former state attorney general Bob McDonnell this fall.
“We have already seen fairly significant political spending for a primary,” says Peter Maroney, president and general manager of WTVR, the Local TV-owned CBS affiliate in Richmond.
Maroney says the primary spending started earlier and lasted longer than his station expected.
“To the extent that this political environment is super charged here with a gubernatorial election that’s going to draw national attention. I think we’ll see spending on issue campaigns as well.”
In New Jersey, Democratic incumbent Governor Jon Corzine is facing a stiff challenge from Republican Chris Christie, a former U.S. district attorney.
New York stations have already reaped some extra revenue from Christie’s primary contest with Steve Lonegan, a former mayor of Bogata, N.J. They started spending in May and stayed on the air until after the June 2 primary.
The Mid-Atlantic Leadership Fund, a pro Democratic group backing Corzine, went on the air the week of May 18 and stayed on until a week after the June 2 primary.
WABC New York also ran spots by the Republican Governors Association attacking Corizine’s record.
WABC and the other New York stations are also grateful to have a billionaire mayor. According to Crain’s New York Business, as of May, Michael Bloomberg had spent an estimated $10 million on his re-election bid, even though no strong challenger for his office has yet emerged.
Although they don’t generate the spending that contests for higher offices do, mayoral races will also help some stations’ meet revenue targets. More than 600 are slated this year.
In Albany, N.Y., for instance, incumbent Democrat Gerald Jennings is expected to have some trouble keeping his job.
“We think we’ll have a vibrant mayoral race where some political dollars will come our way,” says Steve Baboulis, vice president and general manager of Hubbard’s WNYT Albany.
For most stations, their best bet for campaign money this year is from candidates who are trying to get an early start on primary and general elections next year.
Thirty-six states will elect new governors in 2010. The big battles (and big money) will be in California, Florida, Illinois, Georgia and Minnesota.
Also in 2010, Senate Republicans will try to hold on to 18 seats, while Democrats defend 18 seats.
Democratic incumbent Chris Dodd (Conn.) has already hit the airwaves in anticipation of a tough race.
In New York, Democrats are bracing for a competitive New York Senate primary between incumbent Kristen Gillibrand and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. Gillibrand was appointed to the seat by the governor early this year after Hillary Clinton relinquished it to go to work for Obama as secretary of state.
Says WNYT’s Baboulis: “We don’t know how much will happen this year. But we have to believe she’s [Maloney] got to get her name on the map.”
Florida is another state where stations may benefit from a Senate primary. Governor Charlie Crist and former state House majority leader Marco Rubio are expected to vie for the Republican nomination. A senate seat is opening up with the retirement of Republican Mel Martinez.
Other races next year for open Senates seats will be in Illinois, Missouri, New Hampshire, Delaware, Kansas and Ohio.
And if Texas Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison resigns next year to run for governor as some suspect it could lead to a special election.
Washington insiders say Democratic Senator Michael Bennet (Colo.) and Republican Senators Jim Bunning (Ky.), David Vitter (La.) and Richard Burr (N.C.) will also have to battle hard to hang on to their jobs.
In Pennsylvania, a heated Democratic primary is anticipated between Arlen Specter and Representative Joe Sestak.
And, of course, all House seats are up for grabs, and many first-term Democratic representatives will be vulnerable if Obama’s agenda goes sour.