2008 Political Ads Worth $2.5 Billion to $2.7 Billion

TNS Media Intelligence: TV takes $2.2 billion, more expected in 2009.

Election 2008: Complete Coverage from Broadcasting & Cable

Save for a few ongoing races, tallies for political ad spending in 2008 have been finalized: Between $2.5 billion and $2.7 billion were spent on political ads this election season, according to figures from ad measurement company TNS Media Intelligence. Television took the lion's share, with $2.2 billion.

The total figure is slightly short of the projected $3 billion take, in part because of a shortened general election season, but up from $1.7 billion back in 2004. In what will no doubt be welcome news for beleaguered TV executives, political ad dollars are expected to continue to flow in 2009.

"2009 is going to be another record setting cycle," said Evan Tracey, president of the political ad tracking unit, Campaign Media Analysis Group, part of ad measurement company TNS Media Intelligence. "There's no reason to think there's going to be any decline."

As President-elect Barack Obama continues to fill out his cabinet with existing senators and governors, there'll be a lot of jockeying at the local level to replace them. Tracey reports that there are some 36 governor races in 2010.

Issue advocacy is also predicted to be big business in 2009 as groups do table setting for issue fights on healthcare down the line.

"Most of the early advertising will be related to public policy of the new administration," he added. "The Obama campaign built an organization that extends outside of Washington. Anybody serious about engaging on legislation will have to do it outside of Washington. You won't have the back room deals with this administration so you'll have to rely on people putting pressure on elected officials and advertising is the strongest vehicle for that."

"All the signs point to a very robust ad climate," he said, but warned TV stations that there might not be too many dollars floating around until after the second half of the year.

The political ad tracking unit doesn't yet have a firm projection for 2009 political ad spending.

For 2008, however, TNS figures suggest broadcast as usual took the vast majority of TV's $2.2 billion take.

"Broadcast TV should come in around $2 billion," Tracey said, "While national cable and national networks was around $200 million." Print, radio, online and local cable is expected to share the remaining $200 million to $400 million, he said.

The long Democratic primary run-off truncated the general election which ran for four months, rather than the eight months in the 2004 presidential election, to which Tracey attributed the slight short in spending in 2008. While the campaigns had plenty of money to spend, the final totals are disappointing in that they fell short of the expected $3 billion that TNS had projected earlier this year. Still radio and local cable benefited from a surfeit of dollars.

"Candidates had more money than there was broadcast time to buy," Tracey said, "Radio and cable did well. Because the race became very compressed the broadcast markets were oversold and there was a lot of money looking for places to go."

Tracey also expects that the historic inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama might generate some congratulatory ads on cable news networks.