The Half-Hour Obama Hour: What Will It Mean?

Solid Closing Argument, Huge Risk or Waste of Money. You Tell Us

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Call it Barack Obama's $3.5 million gamble. As the Obama campaign readies to air a half-hour TV program at 8 p.m. EST tonight on major broadcast and some cable networks, the question is will it actually work? (See our related poll question: Smart move, huge risk or waste of money?)

Amidst discussion about how the ad dramatically showcases the media-buying advantages of the Obama campaign, there are questions about the ad's potential effectiveness. The Obama ad will air tonight on CBS, Fox, NBC, BET, Univision, TVOne and MSNBC.

The real test of the ad's success is a three-part one.

First will it be seen at all, or will viewers ignore it? Second will the ad really convert undecided voters or motivate already committed Obama voters to get out and vote? Finally, even if viewers don't view the ad, will its airing fuel enough discussion in the press, TV and radio talk shows and at water coolers to be worth the cost?

Because there is no recent history of half-hour campaign ads in the presidential race -- the last one was aired by Ross Perot in 1992 -- none of the answers are readily apparent. The Obama campaign has encouraged parties of supporters to watch the ad, potentially making viewership more difficult to judge.

In 1992, Mr. Perot aired 15 half hours generating an average of 11.6 million viewers, according to Nielsen. A final half hour, airing simultaneously on ABC, NBC and CBS, drew 26 million viewers.

That was a different time, when the major TV networks had a much bigger chunk of the total TV audience. Those half hours were the major advertising tool of the Perot campaign.

This time, Wednesday's Obama half-hour ad is just one small tool of a much more massive campaign. More generally the campaign's ads are getting heavy airing in battleground states, but the campaign has also aired ads on network TV news, entertainment and sports programming.

Unless the half hour ad craters in the Nielsen ratings, trying to accurately assess the impact of the ad alone isn't going to be easy.

Nielsen said that recently CBS has been drawing audiences of 6.3 million viewers, NBC 9.7 million viewers and Fox 6.9 million viewers during that day part.

On Fox on Wednesday, the Obama campaign has the advantage of the ad being a lead in to the World Series.

While ratings for the political conventions and the presidential debates were generally up this year, will that interest apply as well to a 30-minute ad?

Stay tuned. Until then, tell us what you think by answering our poll question.