Campaign Ads Bring Relief to Media
By CLAUDIA PESCHIUTTA
With the election year not even a month old, political ads are back on the air, and while many Angelenos might be rolling their eyes at the prospect of candidate overload, local radio and TV executives couldn't be happier.
The debut of commercials for incumbent Gov. Gray Davis on local television stations late last week and spots for Republican gubernatorial hopeful Bill Simon on L.A. radio brought with them the promise of much-needed ad revenues for the rest of 2002.
"Business has been somewhat soft so we welcome all orders," said David Woodcock, vice president and general manager of KCBS-TV Channel 2. "We were expecting to see more aggressive spending earlier because you've got the primary in March and we didn't see that money in early January."
Some campaigns may have waited until Jan. 19 to begin running ads because after that date stations must provide them with the lowest unit rate in a given time period.
"What you really hope for is to see early money, before the (political-protection) window opens," said a spokesman for KABC-TV Channel 7. "We hoped to have more by now."
Former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan, who will compete in the Republican primary against Simon, a local investment banker, and California Secretary of State Bill Jones, has been running ads in most major cities but L.A. However, with Simon spots expected to begin running soon in L.A., Riordan will likely start putting money into the market. If Riordan wins the March 5 primary, he and Davis, who is running virtually unchallenged, are expected to engage in the most expensive governor's race in state history.
Lucrative general election
"After the primary, I do not think money will be an issue both will be spending a fortune," said Allan Hoffenblum, a GOP campaign consultant. "The L.A. media market and all the TV stations and direct-mail marketers will have a banner year."
Davis already has raised more than $40 million and has $35.5 million on-hand, while Riordan was up to $6.6 million.
Much of the political advertising will be directed at KABC and KNBC-TV Channel 4 because they have high-rated news programs, a favorite target for campaigns. Other L.A. stations will have a harder time attracting political spending.
"Political advertisers tend to buy the ABCs, NBCs and CBSs of the world because they're looking for the older, 35-plus, 50-plus (audience). They think those people are more likely to vote," said Gordon Peppers, local advertising sales manager for KTLA-TV Channel 5. The challenge for KTLA, known for its younger-skewing programming, is to convince campaigns that many of the undecided voters who influence elections are attracted to the station's shows.
"We want the money," Peppers said. "(But) we're finding it hard to change their perception of our audience."
It's difficult to predict political spending since much of it depends on the strategies of the various campaigns. Though Davis is almost guaranteed to win the primary, his campaign is running ads in response to the "almost daily diet of disingenuous attacks on the governor," said Roger Salazar, press secretary for the Governor Gray Davis Committee. Last month, the California Republican Party put out ads blaming Davis for a $1.2-billion tax increase.
"If Riordan de-emphasizes L.A., Davis will de-emphasize L.A.," said Parke Skelton, a Democratic campaign consultant. "My guess is that won't continue...Riordan will realize that one of his aces in the hole is the ability to attract crossover in L.A."
Boost for other media
The L.A. market traditionally attracts 45 to 50 percent of the media buys statewide, Skelton said. While television will take in most of that, local radio stations and newspapers also could get a revenue boost.
"We'd love to have a lot of political spending but are we dependent on it? No, because...it's not always easy to predict," said Pat Duffy, the L.A. spokesman for Infinity Broadcasting Corp., which owns seven local radio stations. "It's good because it puts pressure against your inventory."
Though stations get lower rates for political spots, they decrease the supply of commercial time available, which makes the remaining slots more expensive for other advertisers. This isn't much of an incentive for radio stations at least before the primary since they already enjoy a healthy influx of ads for television's sweeps period in February.
In radio, political spending "is usually a nice piece of change but nothing like what TV gets," said Mary Beth Garber, president of the Southern California Broadcasters Association.
In 2000, political spending generated $60 million in advertising revenues for television stations in L.A., while local radio stations and newspapers got only $13 million and $4.5 million, respectively, she said. Total advertising revenues were $1.9 billion for television, $2.3 billion for radio and $853 million for newspapers.
Despite a heated governor's race, this election may not generate as much advertising revenue as past contests because, so far, there are no controversial initiatives that sometimes generate more spending than the candidate races.
"There's going to be a fair amount of spending on this term-limit initiative but a 'fair amount' of money means $5 million or $6 million," Skelton said. "I don't see any initiatives coming up that look like they're big special-interest blowouts."
No matter how much money is spent on political advertising, L.A. will probably attract more of it than any other city. That makes sense, said Christopher Werner, president of LUC Media Inc., an Atlanta-based political media buying firm. "There are more voters in L.A. than anywhere so, naturally, there is more that gets spent in L.A.," he said.
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