Hottest Deal of the (Election) Season: TV Ads

Spots at Some Stations Sell for up to 20% off Amid Marketer Cutbacks

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WASHINGTON ( -- The unthinkable is happening to political ads on TV: They're getting cheaper to buy.

Faced with a recession, as well as cutbacks by automakers and financial advertisers, TV stations have sliced prices, according to political-ad buyers. In some markets, where panicked stations are desperate to show they're moving ad units, the cuts may be as much as 15% to 20% from two years ago.

It's not at every station or in every market, and whether the cuts will continue through November isn't certain, but buyers say the cutting is widespread enough to be noticeable.

"When we plan well in advance, we don't look at trends or the economy. We plan for inflation. What we have found in a lot of cities is that when we go to actually buy, we can bring in the buys for less than we plan," said David Bienstock, president of Target Enterprises, Los Angeles, a major West Coast buyer for Republican candidates, who offered the 15%-to-20% estimate. "It's very rare for rates to go down, but we are seeing in major East Coast, Midwest and West Coast markets instances where costs per [gross ratings] point are going down."

A Democratic media buyer who didn't want to be identified called the lower rates "a welcome surprise" but said she wasn't sure whether they would continue into the fall. Another buyer said even the presidential candidates have benefited, finding they can buy ads in battleground states for less than expected.

Buying in bulk
A media rep for a number of stations, who also declined to be identified, said the cuts have been coming, because some stations, desperate to show advertising sales units in the face of marketer cutbacks, have offered political advertisers big discounts for buying advance packages of ads.

"We all know the economy is bad, and it's a natural thing to cut the rate to get more units," said the rep. She said the Olympics are also making it harder for non-NBC stations because some advertisers don't want to buy time on competitive programs during the two weeks of the games.

"Some stations can't wait," she said. "They need money now."

She said the price cuts aren't happening everywhere, because not all stations are "panicking," and some realize they will likely get the political-ad buys at higher prices if they wait.

Still, she said, she understands some of the panic.

Dour forecast
"Every day the media trade [magazines] forecast the media to be down next year. We are driving it down ourselves. The [media-rep] agencies are all listening to the same preachers, and they get crazy. It's a vicious cycle," she said.

Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of TNS Media Intelligence's Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks media buying in politics, said he can't confirm the cuts.

"My feeling is they are buying more for less and negotiating good prices now, but as they get closer to Election Day, I suspect that trend will reverse itself," he said.
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