The executives report the Obama campaign paid in the range of $1 million per network to buy time for an Oct. 29 program. The campaign has so far declined to discuss the content it will air from 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. that night or even say whether the programming will be live.
Network documents showing the exact cost of the buy will be available later today.
While the $2 million to $2.5 million is substantial and could grow given the potential that ABC and Fox could yet be added to the buy, that total is less than the $5 million the Obama camp spent on its first network TV purchase -- a package of ads during the recent Summer Olympics across NBC Universal's properties.
Sen. John McCain's campaign subsequently bought a $6 million package of Olympics spots in an effort to keep up with his rival for the White House.
While the Obama and McCain campaigns have devoted most of their ad buys to battleground states, they also recently have been buying some network-TV ad time.
At ABC, the Obama camp has spent $609,000 for news, daytime programming (including "The View") and soaps including "All My Children" and some prime-time programming. It has orders for $2.3 million in spending on the network for the next two weeks. On Fox, the campaign has bought a $3 million package that includes sports and entertainment programming.
The McCain team, meanwhile, has bought nearly $2 million in spots on news and some daytime, most of which has already run.
In recent years, the country's presidential candidates have done some national cable buys but no national network-TV buys. The last buy of a half hour by any presidential candidate on network TV was by Ross Perot during his 1992 White House run.
The Obama campaign didn't take federal financing. As a result it can spend what it raises, a situation that has given it a major advertising advantage. The campaign on Monday alone spent $3.5 million in advertising, according to Evan Tracey, chief oeprating officer of TNS Media Intelligence's Campaign Media Analysis Group. He said that at that pace, the Obama campaign will spend in the last 30 days of the campaign as much as the McCain camp is spending in its whole nine-week general-election campaign.
The McCain campaign accepted federal financing, and while it's also benefiting from spending from the Republican National Committee, the campaign itself has had to limit its advertising to the $85 million provided by the government.
The McCain campaign last week pulled its advertising from Michigan, a so-called battleground state, reallocating the money to North Carolina, Virginia and Indiana, Mr. Tracey said.