Obama Bonanza as Media Milks Inauguration

MTV, QVC, BET, Time Among Those Hunting for a Few More Barack Bucks

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- No major media company will miss out on President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration as they swarm Washington in hopes of cashing in on an otherwise bleak first quarter.

The week of Jan. 20 will see a media blitz not seen since, well, the week of Nov. 4, when Mr. Obama's victory prompted record ratings for cable news networks such as CNN, MSNBC and Fox News and sent newspapers such as the New York Times, USA Today and the Chicago Tribune clamoring to reprint their Nov. 5 issues. Now everyone from MTV to QVC to Time Inc. is hoping to augment their revenues with commemorative coverage. Even Marvel Comics is in on the action, producing a Spider-Man-meets-Obama special-edition comic book that hits stands Jan. 14.

Obama merch on QVC

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MTV is prepping its biggest inauguration coverage since the Clinton administration, partnering with volunteer group ServiceNation for "Be the Change: Live from the Inaugural Ball." The network will broadcast from Washington, New Orleans and Kenya, on behalf of MTV Africa, with coverage airing on MTV, MTV 2, MTV Tres, MTVU and MTV.com. Target is the premier sponsor, with Verizon Wireless and Paramount Pictures also signed on as presenting sponsors.

Stephen Friedman, president-general manager of MTV, said the inauguration coverage will be the most extensive it has ever done, with a corporate investment on par with the network's awards shows or New Year's Eve coverage. "It's less about us covering parties and more about activism, seeing what this election symbolized for this generation and their power to make change," he said.

BET, a corporate sibling of MTV at Viacom, is planning a week of special coverage, culminating with "Yes We Will! BET's Inauguration Celebration." The event will be sponsored by Procter & Gamble's My Black Is Beautiful and Comcast, with four events being held nationwide courtesy of Bacardi USA's Grey Goose.

Oprah too
"There is a result to the engagement individuals took to participating in the voting process that is being echoed from a PR, marketing and sales perspective, even digital and international. There isn't a department that hasn't been touched by this," said Alvin Bowles, BET Networks' senior VP-integrated marketing. MTV and BET are both in line to collect incremental ad revenue as a result, which could be as much as $5 million more each based on similar events.

Oprah Winfrey will film her show in Washington the week of Jan. 20, and there are recurring rumors that Ms. Winfrey may even host a ball of her own in Mr. Obama's honor. Michelle Obama, for her part, is already on tap to appear at a children's concert on Jan. 20 to air commercial-free on The Disney Channel, "Kids' Inaugural: We Are the Future."

Time Inc.'s Time magazine is expanding on its recent proclamation of Obama as Person of the Year by turning that issue's cover image into a pull-out poster for special editions of its pre-inauguration issue, out Friday, Jan. 16. Time spokeswoman Betsy Burton said the pull-out poster will only be available in Northeast editions of the magazine, due to the interest in the Washington area. On Jan. 23, the magazine will also release a commemorative inauguration issue. "Neither issue has closed, but both are on track to be larger than an average issue," she said.

Wenner Media's Rolling Stone just released a commemorative Obama "book-a-zine" at newsstands for $9.95, which follows the president-elect's appearance on three covers in 2008. Ironically, his third cover, released just before the election,* was the weakest selling of the three, moving just 140,000 copies at newsstands. (The first sold 147,000 and the second sold 205,000.) So far the book-a-zine, which will stay on sale for three months, has already sold nearly 100,000 copies, according to Wenner.

Of course, it wouldn't be a media-selling frenzy without a home-shopping network, which is why QVC is setting up shop at the Creative Coalition's Inaugural ball to sell Obama memorabilia.

"Frankly, if we were not at the inauguration, we would feel like we were not doing our job," Doug Rose, QVC's VP-multichannel programming, recently told the Associated Press.

'Nothing compares'
Washington media itself will be among the biggest to benefit from the influx of three to four million people flocking to the area during Inauguration Week. Steve Ginsburg, general manager of the Washington-Baltimore office of Clear Channel Outdoor, said transit inventory is nearly sold out. Categories such as soft drinks, unions, health clubs, banks and local museums are shelling out for ads that were priced at a reduced rate to reach attendees. "In a normal economy and a normal environment, we've run into sold-out situations quite often, but there's no convention that can stir up this many advertisers on this many units. Nothing compares to this," Mr. Ginsburg said.

Both The Washington Post and The Washington Times plan special sections and publications aimed at visitors in for the inauguration who want keepsakes and at local residents, though security related to the events will make their jobs harder. The Post is raising its newsstand price for Jan. 20 and 21 to $2 from the normal 75¢, and plans to offer a commemorative edition, meaning that it is likely to boost the amount of money it takes in through retail sales by more than half a million dollars.

On Sunday, Jan. 18, The Washington Post will publish a special edition of its Washington Post Sunday Magazine, focused on President-elect Obama. The magazine will more than double its normal page count, and extra copies will be printed and later sold for $5 on local newsstands. Additional commemorative issues are planned for later in the week.

Marc Rosenberg, senior advertising manager for the Post, said there has been heavy interest from advertisers in all the products. The newspaper has already sold an additional $1.2 million in display ads thanks to the Inaugural.

"In prior years, we averaged eight pages of advertising in our Inaugural Special Report. We are already at 16 pages, and we are still selling," he said last week. He said ad sales have continued to pick up in recent weeks.

At The New York Times, the Sunday magazine will run a commemorative issue on Jan. 18. Ad page sales for that issue will double a typical week. Digital inventory is sold out. And ad sales for the Jan. 21 issue of the paper, which will get an oversized print run and feature an inauguration section, are looking "very strong," a spokeswoman said.

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Contributing: Nat Ives and Ira Teinowitz

Obama mania: Coming to a retailer near you

Obama chia head
Inaugural tchotchkes are a given, but the breadth and depth of Obama merchandise available is staggering. For infants, there are onesies. For the tech-savvy, there's an iPhone case. Coming is a Barack Obama Chia Pet. And for those who want to size up the president-elect, there's a life-size cutout. But it doesn't stop there. Retailers are also using the inauguration as an excuse to promote big-screen TVs, digital recorders and patriotic party favors. Amazon last week launched its first Inauguration Store, featuring "everything customers need to get ready to attend the event, host an inauguration party or watch from home."

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Rolling Stone's third Obama cover came out after the election; in fact it appeared in October.
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