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Election Ads Join The Broadband Revolution

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American political campaigns haven't quite caught onto the broadband video revolution, but a trickle of activity has begun in several key races as Election Day 2006 nears. And while this year is relatively quiet, observers say that the surging interest in online video coupled with an expanding political Web universe sets up 2008 as a potential breakthrough year for digital political advertising.

Broadband Enterprises—a company that sells video ad inventory across a network of Web sites—has recently implemented online video campaigns on local TV stations and newspaper sites for the California Democratic Party and for Texas Governor Rick Perry. According to Matt Wasserlauf, the company's president and CEO, at least two additional campaigns are seriously considering similar buys in the next few weeks leading up to Nov. 7, when voters across the country hit the polls.

Spending so far is on the modest side, as the two campaigns have laid out roughly $100,000 between them, delivering about 5 million impressions in total. Wasserlauf said that while demand among political campaigns this year doesn't quite mirror the overall rabid appetite for online video advertising, the progress is promising. "2004 was definitely too early for this stuff," he said. "Back then they were saying, 'I've got to do Internet.' They weren't even thinking about broadband. Now, we're having the same conversations this year about video."

Part of the reason things are still moving slowly, said Wasserlauf, is that local TV and newspapers sites are limited in the amount of inventory they can sell and are less nimble when it comes to execution.

In fact, thus far, Broadband Enterprises' political buy appears to be an isolated case. Among other prominent ad networks, neither AOL's Lightningcast, BlueLithium nor 24/7 Real Media reported any political ads—video or otherwise. National sites like MSNBC.com and FoxNews.com also have come up empty.

The fact that more activity isn't happening on the Web this year, given all the attention the medium received during the 2004 presidential campaign, is "truly a disappointment," said Gordon Borrell, CEO of media consultancy Borrell Associates. While Borrell claims that local media sites actually have plenty of inventory to sell, neither the sites nor political media consultants have caught up to changing media dynamics, and are wary of experimentation. "Everybody is using the same playbook they've used for several decades," Borrell said. "I don't think anybody was ready this year."

Interestingly, while online video ad spending has been limited, other Web 2.0 factors, some of them viral, may impact politicians. For example, in the New Jersey Senate race, anti-Tom Kean Jr. clips have been popping up on YouTube. One clip, "Tom Kean Jr. Turns His Back on a Soldier's Mother," has been viewed over 65,000 times as of Oct. 20.

Looking forward, Jack Smith, vp, product strategy, 24/7 Real Media, and others, are predicting that 2006 will pale in comparison to 2008, when the country's interest level should be considerably higher and online video advertising far more sophisticated. One new political site that hopes to be a major voice by then is HotSoup.com, which went live Oct. 19. Designed as a MySpace-like community for Americans of all political stripes, it has the backing of nearly a dozen prominent political names, including Joe Lockhart, President Bill Clinton's former press secretary, and Matthew Dowd, a top Bush-Cheney campaign strategist.

The site, which features a regularly rotating group of pundits providing commentary, has lined up the former president and Sen. Hiliary Clinton (D-N.Y.) as contributors.

HotSoup co-founder Allie Savarino said the new site's bipartisan nature should appeal to more brands, which are generally cautious about advertising in the highly partisan political blogosphere. "There is enormous advertiser resistance to being associated with one opinion … since that one opinion will be automatically opposed by people they want to sell their products to," said Savarino.