Political Ads Swamp Inventory

NEW YORK — With political-ad spending primed to hit a record $1 billion by Election Day, broadcast inventory is tight or sold out in most of the top 25 U.S. markets. And media buyers don’t foresee this perennial shortage ending with the ban on “soft money” political contributions.

In markets with hotly contested races, prices could double by Election Day, sources said. In Boston, for example, a primetime 30-second spot was averaging $6,000-7,000 at the start of the fourth quarter; it is now 60 percent higher and could rise even more.

“It depends upon the market, but prices can be 100 percent and then some,” said Kathy Crawford, evp, director of local broadcast at Initiative Media, which last week released a study on political ad spending.

Some buyers are calling for a revision of federal laws requiring stations to devote a percentage of airtime to election ads, saying clients are too dependent on TV. “There is an obvious lack of substitutability in media,” said Jon Mandel, chief negotiating officer for Grey Global Group’s MediaCom.

The McCain-Feingold act, effective Jan. 1, bans unlimited “soft money” donations to political parties from special-interest groups. Still, said Phyllis Maguire, svp, director of local broadcast for Media Planning Group, “political groups will figure out other ways to get that money.”