Political Ads Swamp Inventory

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 do not 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 Bos ton, 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, executive vice president and director of local broadcast at Initiative Media, which last week released a study on political ad spending.

Crawford noted that retailers and movie studios are hurt most in this environment because their products tend to be more time-sensitive than other marketers.

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

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