TVB Counts on Candidates
Confab this week concentrates on politics, auto ads
By Andrew Grossman -- Broadcasting & Cable, 4/11/2004 8:00:00 PM
Talk About Advertising
Automotive sales will get the most attention from broadcast-TV executives when they gather in New York April 15 for the annual Television Bureau of Advertising (TVB) sales conference. But the real ad story this year is politics.
|On the Hustings Candidate and on-ballot issue advertising on broadcast television|
|*Presidential election year: President, one-third of Senate, all of the House of Representatives, and about a quarter of state governors
N = negligible
The most optimistic reports predict that politicians could pour $1 billion into national and local campaigns this year, so obviously stations are looking forward to the campaign. On the presidential level, the early mudslinging between President George W . Bush and Sen. John Kerry may not be pretty, but it will be very profitable for stations.
"Presidential candidates spend overwhelmingly on local TV," says TVB President Chris Rohrs.
Indeed, in 2000, all but $772,000 of the $606 million spent on political ads went to stations in the way of national or local spot, according to CMR/MediaWatch (see chart). Not surprisingly, Rohrs is optimistic about stations' prospects for 2004: The TVB predicts sales revenue will grow 11%-12% this year and another 2%-4% in 2005, with national spot reaping a lion's share of the increase.
"We're dealing with across-the-board growth. There aren't too many areas that will be down," Rohrs says, adding that financial and telecommunications categories in particular look strong, as do the leaders in retail discounting, such as Wal-Mart and Kohl's. "The first quarter is strong."
Bonita LeFlore, executive vice president and director of local broadcast at Zenith Media, gives a more nuanced view of the spot market heading into the conference. She terms it a "mixed bag." Offsetting the expected strength in political advertising is a tenuous auto market, "which was a little weaker than anticipated" in 2003, she says.
But Rohrs disagrees, maintaining that the car companies and dealers, which accounted for about $4.6 billion in spot spending a year ago—a roughly 1% uptick—have realized that they need to advertise when times are tougher in order to maintain market share. "The car folks have figured out that, even in rocky economic times, if you get out a message and you put a value proposition in front of consumers, they will continue to buy cars."
Unlike in the past, this year's conference lacks a coherent theme. "It always seemed like a stretch to come up with a unifying theme," Rohrs says. Automotive issues always play a major part, he notes, both because of the industry's considerable reliance on car ads and because of the decision three years ago to mesh the TVB confab with the New York Auto Show at the Jacob Javits Convention Center.
Tempering the good news on the political front are expectations that much of the presidential spending will center in the 17 states that most pundits say are up for grabs.
A late addition to the TVB schedule is a one-on-one interview of Les Moonves, chairman and CEO of CBS, by J. Max Robins, editor in chief of B&C.
Otherwise, the day-long TVB confab will have a considerable political edge to it, with Inside Edition and MSNBC anchor Deborah Norville interviewing veteran CBS Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer about the campaign.
Also, Brian Williams, the CNBC anchor, NBC News reporter, and Nightly News leading-man-in-waiting, will speak at lunch just prior to the awarding of the Broadcaster of the Year Award to David Barrett, president and CEO of Hearst-Argyle Television.
Following Schieffer's interview, the political and regulatory scene will be the topic of discussion by a panel that will include former-FCC-chairman-turned-Washington-insider-attorney Richard Wiley.
The conference will kick off with the automotive keynote by Mark LaNeve, general manager of General Motors' Cadillac division, followed by a panel with AutoNation Senior Vice President of Marketing John Drury; Dan Lynch, a car dealer from Mt. Vernon, Iowa; and Harold Kobakof, chief retail officer at BBD&O in Detroit.
Technology's role in the future of advertising—TiVo, the Internet, video-on-demand, satellite—is also on the TVB agenda.
Colby Atwood, senior analyst and partner at media consultant Borrell Associates, says that, while stations have begun to pay more attention to classified ads on the Web, they remain far behind newspapers in that area. He blames most of the inactivity on "fear and inertia" but believes that losing market share to print rivals has forced stations to finally see the light.
Big dollars from the Web might be a few years off, but this is an election year when broadcasters could reap the benefits from what is expected to be the nastiest election since 1884, when Republican James Blaine accused Democrat Grover Cleveland of representing the party of "rum, Romanism, and rebellion." That nasty attack cost Blaine the presidency.
Alas, there was no television then: Those would have been great commercials.
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