Political TV Ads Shatter Records

It's not over yet

Tired of all those political ads on TV? Brace yourself. The past few months were only a warm-up for the coming days leading up to Nov. 6, when about one-third of all the political advertising for the entire election cycle will air.

More than 915,000 presidential ads have aired on broadcast and national cable through Oct. 21, a 44.5 percent jump from the 637,000 ads that aired in 2008, according to the Wesleyan Media Project.

But unlike 2008, the ads have been concentrated in nine states, far fewer than in 2008.

"The battlefield is significantly smaller than 2008," said Jack Poor, vp of strategic planning for the TVB. "At this time in 2008, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Missouri and Indiana were in play."

For media outlets, it's either feast or famine. Stations in Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Colorado, Nevada, New Hampshire, Iowa and Wisconsin are scrambling to accommodate political advertisers, while other stations wonder if there is an election at all.

In the first three weeks of October, presidential ads numbered 9,650 in Denver, per a WMP analysis of Kantar Media/CMAG data. Las Vegas aired more than 8,000. Miami, Orlando and Tampa, Fla.; Cleveland; and Washington, D.C., all aired more than 7,500 ads.

Because the field has narrowed, TVB's Poor isn't sure TV stations will have enough inventory to handle the onslaught. There have been a number of reports that some stations are shaving an extra minute or two out of news, adding weekend newscasts or bumping some syndicated programming. For example, in Washington, the Fox station bumped The Simpsons during the week to lengthen its news.

"It still is not enough flexibility to meet volume demands," said Maribeth Papuga, evp and director of local broadcast for MediaVest, who has clients trying to advertise in some of the swing state markets. 

Even the higher ad rates haven't discouraged political buyers. "Some advertisers are paying five times what advertisers would normally pay to get on the air," Papuga said. "It makes it difficult to determine pricing, then our clients get bumped."

Over the next 13 days, expect the two candidates to adjust ad schedules to squeeze out every possible vote. While President Obama has outgunned challenger Mitt Romney the first three weeks in October, that could change in an instant. 

Over 112,000 pro-Obama ads aired the first three weeks in October compared to 97,000 for the pro-Mitt Romney ads, per WMP.

In the top 15 markets, team Obama outgunned Romney in 13 markets with a big lead in Denver, Las Vegas, Orlando, Washington, D.C., and Reno, Nev. Team Romney outnumbered team Obama in Columbus, Ohio, and Norfolk, Va.

The Obama campaign has spent twice as much as the Romney campaign in the first three months of October, shelling out more than $65.3 million for 97,170 ads. Romney's campaign spent $30.3 million on 42,937 ads. American Crossroads, a pro-Romney PAC, made up the difference, spending $28.5 million on 26,798 ads. The pro-Obama PAC Priorities USA spent $9.5 million on 13,443 ads.

In total, the top 15 spenders in the presidential race have spent more than $161 million in the first three weeks of October alone.

That's just the warm-up.