Candidates vote their choice

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Campaign finance reform was a big issue during the presidential primaries.

But change on that front is not coming this fall. TV station managers are already taking comfort from that.

"The political [ad] billing was double the beginning of the year here, and the expectations are that will heat up in the third and fourth quarter," says Petry Television President John Heise.

The short primary season should mean an even bigger general election buy, says Christina Mantoulides, senior VP-director of regional buying operations with TN Media, New York.

Politicians won't be the only buyers, either. In the local spot market, advocacy groups should be a good source of income.

PRIMARIES CONTINUE

In states such as North Carolina, primary races were still driving ad spending; in that state, there was a spirited battle before the May 2 primary in both the Democratic and Republican parties to replace political institution Gov. Jim Hunt.

While such ad-dollar impact is ebbing for the moment, says New York-based Katz Media Group President Michael Hugger, bigger upfront spending from political groups is projected for the next six months.

As in years past, the political soft money is going to continue as a powerful advertising influence on fall TV. According to watchdog group Common Cause, the national political action committees have brought in more than $160 million in the first 15 months of the 2000 election cycle.

With dollars stockpiled by respective sides on such hot-flash issues as gun control and abortion, TV commercial pods will be inundated during the fall season with advocacy advertising, forcing mainstream advertisers into alternative venues.

ABORTION ISSUE SPENDING

"With the candidates' positions on abortion, we'd expect those folks to spend money. Gun control is also a big ticket item," Mr. Hugger says.

The Federal Election Commission will award each major political party $67.6 million in August to spend on the presidential campaign, and much is expected to go to ads. The Reform Party also will be spending, though a far smaller amount, as will a number of "independent" committees, though much of that spending may be on local stations.

REASONABLE TIME

FCC rules and federal statutes require broadcasters to make reasonable time available to political candidates (who get time near the election at minimum rates). A new possible complication for traditional marketers is that stations may have to also make available longer time chunks for candidates.

In a decision last September, Federal Communications Commissioners told stations that candidates this time have a right not only to buy normal length advertising, but 5-minute, 10-minute or longer chunks.

"Spending was light in April, but that will change," concludes Lena Mills, VP-associate local broadcast director at Zenith Media, New York. Her advice for politicians: "If you want to get in the second half get in early."

Contributing: Ira Teinowitz

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