And Why Some Advertisers Shunned the Event Online

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Along with whatever else last week's Democratic National Convention did or did not accomplish, it demonstrated what a difference four years can make in cyberspace.
The Democratic National Convention was a heavily cyber event.

The campaign season, which opened with Howard Dean's revolutionary use of the World Wide Web for political fundraising, reached its zenith at the convention, whose very pulse seemed to be an instant, global communications matrix that both informed and reported on its every move. Meanwhile, the broadcast TV networks -- once the titans of convention news business -- retreated to narrow slots of tepid coverage.

Everything changed
When asked what changed the most about the Web since the 2000 political conventions, experts in the online field last week frequently answered with a single word: "Everything."

One reason is raw numbers. Far more people have made the Web an integral part of their daily information consumption habits. The Internet news audience climbed from 54 million in March 2000 to 92 million in June 2004, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Overall, there were 149.2 million monthly active Internet users in June 2004 -- an increase of 50% over October 2000, said Greg Bloom, a senior analyst at Nielsen/NetRatings.

Another is that the TV networks' decision to abandon gavel-to-gavel coverage left a gapping void that mainstream online media outlets filled with high-quality, all-day reporting, said Carlos Silva, senior vice president of AOL News and Sports, a unit of Time Warner's America Online.

And a third reason is the explosion of broadband use throughout the mass-media market.

Improving Webcasts
At the political conventions four years ago, major Web sites were experimenting with Webcasts. "We had a Web cam and people would come into the AOL booth at the convention and do interviews, but very few consumers had broadband, so the interview would be in text," recalled Lewis D'Vorkin, vice president and editor in chief of AOL News and Sports.

Now, 48% of consumers using the Internet from home have a broadband connection, allowing news sites to use all the technological bells and whistles at their disposal. Typical in last week's broadband-enabled world of convention reporting were video streams; real-time live news reports filed by reporters with nimble thumbs using a Blackberry; news reports from multiple sources; and information consumers would have trouble finding in the terrestrial world -- for example, the Democratic party platform.

In fact, Web technology and interface dynamics have advanced so much in four years that it is impossible to compare Web traffic during the 2000 conventions with that experienced during last week's event, analysts say.

Traffic to Web sites
Also, neither Nielsen/NetRatings nor the news outlets break down Web traffic specific to convention coverage. But traffic to news areas in general was strong. On July 26, convention Monday, Yahoo! News had 1.8 million unique visitors; MSNBC had 1.3 million; CNN, 1.3 million; and AOL News and Weather had 1 million.

One million may not seem that high of a number, but for one event, such as streaming a video interview, it is significant for the Web, said AOL's Mr. Silva. The candidates now understand the power of reaching those online users for fund-raising, ad executives say.

Online fund-raising
On July 28, the campaign for presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry shattered its previous online fund-raising record, bringing in more than $3.3 million dollars in one day, only to crush it the next day with a total of $5.6 million raised. At times during Mr. Kerry's acceptance speech, his Web site, www.johnkerry.com, received more than 5,000 hits per second.

MSN.com "saw almost zero [advertising] dollars from the political community in the 2000 election cycle. And now we're dealing in six figures," said Cyrus Krohn, publisher of Slate magazine.

Despite those levels of eyeballs as well as ad dollars, large marketers didn't flock to news sites covering the convention, Mr. Krohn said.

Marketers avoid mixing messages
"Many of them don't want to advertise around anything that's election-oriented," MSNBC.com's Mr. Tillinghast said. "They are afraid that there's an issue that might come up [during a convention speech] like gay marriage, which will somehow tarnish their brand. My point to them is you are not sponsoring politics, you are sponsoring democracy."

MSN's sales staff tried to sell advertising space specifically for areas of its Web site related to the convention, along with packages for the site's overall election coverage, Mr. Tillinghast said. Yahoo!, meanwhile, said it hadn't tried to sell ads geared specifically toward its convention coverage.

CNN.com sold online ads as a package with TV media. But two marketers, Samsung and Chrysler Group, sponsored the "entire election" cycle, said Greg D'Alba, chief operating officer for CNN sales and marketing. But, he admits, "we're probably running a few less ads than normal."

Only AOL had ad deals specifically geared to the convention. Barnes & Noble promoted former President Bill Clinton's new book, said AOL spokeswoman Ruth Safaty. FedEx highlighted its partnership with Kinkos. And Ford Motor Co. hyped "the highly engaged, issues-oriented, educated election audience to market its new hybrid" vehicle, Ms. Safaty said.

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