Political Ad Spending to Hit Record

NEW YORK The economy and the overall advertising market may be under pressure, but political ad spending this year is expected to reach a new record, even though it may fall short of original estimates.

After the presidential, congressional and gubernatorial races, along with ballot initiatives, rang up more than $1.7 billion in 2004, research firm TNS Media Intelligence originally estimated a record $3 billion-plus would be spent this year.

Evan Tracey, president of the firm’s political division Campaign Media Analysis Group, said it is too early to change that estimate. However, the overall tally may now come in closer to $2.5 billion. “Some things played out differently than expected,” he explained.

For example, many of the most competitive local and regional races are happening in smaller markets rather than biggies, such as New York, Florida, California, New Jersey, Illinois and the like. Plus, some of the expected 2008 spending was pulled into 2007 amid a competitive and fast-paced primary season.

One thing that has also played out differently than Washington insiders had expected is that many Republicans raised less money than thought, while Democrats have exceeded expectations.

Among the media categories that look like winners in this context are network TV, local cable TV and radio, while local TV spending is trending behind TNS’ expectations.

“Network TV spending will set a record for [presidential] candidates’ spending,” said Tracey without providing an exact estimate. Among the contributing factors is that John McCain has accepted public funding and therefore must adhere to spending limits, which has led him to stretch his ad dollars by spending more of them on network buys, he added.

Local cable system and radio ad buys seem to have benefitted from broader trends. Cable ad buys can be targeted and are a less crowded political terrain traditionally, while radio leaders, led by CBS Radio CEO Dan Mason, have pushed their medium as one that politicians should consider.