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Campaign Ads Give Television Networks a Boost

Wednesday, 8 Oct 2008 | 3:26 PM ET
Presidential Debate
AP
Presidential Debate

The day after a political debate it seems appropriate to examine just what this presidential campaign means for the TV biz. First, to the debate itself, in which both candidates spent quite a bit of time addressing the plummeting stock market and the financial meltdown, which also surely drove viewers to tune in.

It surely didn't top the 70 million viewers of the Biden-Palin vice presidential debate, but it could top the 52.4 million viewers of the last debate, helped out by the fact that it's a Tuesday night instead of a Friday night. Early Nielsen ratings numbers showed Tuesday's debate averaged a 42.1 household rating in 55 of Nielsen's 56 markets, falling short of the VP's average of a 45 rating. Final numbers will roll in.

Good news on political ad spending, it's expected to reach a new record of some $2.5 billion according to TNS Media Intelligence's Campaign Media Analysis Group. That's up from $1.7 billion in 2004, but less than the $3 billion originally estimated. Why the drop from that unprecedented $3 billion number?

Well some of the most competitive races are in smaller markets, where candidates are unlikely to spend, or need to spend, huge amounts of cash on TV ads. The markets which can really rack up huge ad dollars like New York, California, and New Jersey, don't have as competitive races this time around.

Who wins? Television: network TV, local cable TV and radio. Local TV isn't performing as well as expected in terms of political ads, also suffering from decline in local TV ads in general. Cable on the other hand, has been benefiting from the fact that cable ad buys can be targeted locally, good news for that sector in this tough ad environment.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.