Candidates Buy Iowa TV Space at 'Unprecedented' Levels

White House Hopefuls Snap Up Every Local Spot During Rose Bowl

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WASHINGTON ( -- It may by the Fighting Illini vs. the Trojans nationally, but the New Year's Day Rose Bowl is turning into a different kind of fight in Iowa.
Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.
Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. Credit: AP

With presidential caucuses set for next Thursday, candidates have bought every local spot in ABC's telecast of the game on Des Moines station WOI-TV. That's 10 30-second spots, some of which are being combined for 60-second messages.

Giving way to politicians
"All of the traditional advertisers [on the game] have given away to politicians," said Ray Cole, president-chief operating officer of Citadel Communication, which owns the Des Moines station and KCAU-TV, Sioux City's ABC affiliate and WHBF-TV in Rock Island, Ill. "It points to the level of activity. It's unprecedented for caucuses."

TV-station and cable execs say candidates' last-minute buys combined with the usual post-Christmas slowdown in other ad categories means far more Iowa TV spots are political ads. Even when nonpolitical advertisers do want in, in some cases federal requirements give precedence to the political spots, meaning some regular advertisers get pre-empted.

"It's somewhat a concern because we still want to take care of regular advertisers," said Dave Madsen, general manager of KTIV-TV, Sioux City's NBC affiliate. "Post-Christmas is a big time for auto dealers."

All day parts
Mr. Cole said that in the last two days campaigns from both Sen. Chris Dodd, D- Conn., and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., have bought additional time and all the candidates now are buying all day parts, not just news or high-visibility programming.

"It is more active than it has been at any point so far," he said. "There is a pre-emption factor for regular advertising for the unprecedented advertising."

Steve Litwer, group VP-ad sales at OnMedia, the ad-sales arm of Mediacom Communications, Iowa's largest cable-system operator, said sales of spot cable political ads have spiked. "The amount of local spot cable has increased over six times above the 2004 caucuses," he said.

While Mr. Litwer said he hasn't seen much of a post-Christmas bump in political ads, the heavy continuing spending as other advertisers back off after the holidays is likely giving viewers a heavier percentage of political ads. And political advertisers are also going well beyond buying news networks and public-affairs programming.

"They are buying pretty deep," Mr. Litwer said, adding that they are buying entertainment, not just news networks.
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