Brown's Massachusetts Win Could Mean Higher 2010 Ad Spending

Energized Bases, Contested Races May Surpass $2.8 Billion Mark

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- Republican Scott Brown's win of a Massachusetts Senate seat could turn out to be a boon for media companies, increasing spending on political advertising this year from the $2.8 billion originally expected.

Scott Brown
Scott Brown Credit: AP
Together with announced retirements by some key Democrats, the outcome over filling Sen. Ted Kennedy's seat in yesterday's special election in Massachusetts offers an unmistakable signal to both parties that they are going to have to weigh in early to start courting voters for this year's November midterm elections.

There were signals from all sides that the election could increase the number of challengers running, which in turn would boost fundraising activities and, ultimately, lift ad spending.

The spending could increase even more if the U.S. Supreme Court frees businesses to spend on political advertising even in the last throws of a race. An important high court ruling could come down as soon as tomorrow.

Normally, off-year elections focus more on local, rather than national issues and the extent of media spending depends on how many primary races take place, where they are (big states have far more expensive media markets), how many incumbents are running and, finally, the number of major local referenda issues. Generally there isn't much national advertising. Political parties and interest groups buy markets in states with races.

This year Evan Tracey, president of TNS Media Intelligence's Campaign Media Analysis Group, a company that tracks political ad spending, was already predicting the combination of open gubernatorial races in Illinois, New York, California and elsewhere would hit the $2.8 billion spent in 2008, when the presidential race bolstered spending.

Mr. Tracey today said spending this time could now exceed that amount. The final figure, however, isn't yet clear -- in part because the economy and the Supreme Court decision could still affect the total.

Still, the Massachusetts race raised the stakes, he said.

"Anybody can win anywhere. There is no such thing as a safe incumbent any more," he said.

The Massachusetts results also could put more of a national debate in play, potentially benefiting cable news channels. It could also prompt the Republican and Democratic parties and advocacy groups to step up their local spending to make arguments about health care, the economy and other issues more typical to a presidential election year.

Today spokesmen for some cable companies and the Television Bureau of Advertising acknowledged they see the impact as potentially boosting political ad spending.

"It increases the importance of targeting your voters," said Tim Kay, director of political strategy for NCC, the national individual spot sales arm of major local cable providers. He pointed to independent voters, who were a major factor in the Massachusetts vote.

Greg D'Alba, CNN's exec VP-chief operating officer-sales and marketing, said advertising could be up for two reasons. First there could be more political advertising, period. Secondly, the results also signal more interest in politics this year and that could generate more corporate advertising in support of coverage.

"It's created another stellar political cycle," he said. "Last night's election supports our forecast that the midterm elections are going to be really important."

He said that he expected the political parties would do a national overlay of their messages to buttress local spending.

Jack Poor, VP-marketing for the Television Bureau of Advertising, said it sees the results as a fundraising boon to political parties, individual candidates and interest groups -- especially on the Republican side. That, in turn, will fuel ad spending on both sides.

"All that was missing [from the election races this year] was the full coffers," he said.

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