Big Turnout by Sponsors For Midterm Elections

Cisco takes CNN app; Hershey’s votes for Colbert
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Presidential elections are like the Super Bowl for TV news, except they only happen every four years. But with interest especially high for this year’s midterm elections, sponsors are flocking to campaign coverage in record numbers.

CNN, for example, says it has signed up sponsors for its election coverage on TV, online and on mobile. Cisco is integrated on all three platforms and is sponsoring a new CNN Election Center app that works on iPhones, Blackberrys and Android.

Other sponsors for CNN include Exxon Mobil, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy on TV and online, General Motors on TV and Nissan and the AARP online.

CNN declined to say how much it was getting for its campaign packages, which in past presidential years have cost an estimated $5 million.

Greg D’Alba, chief operating officer of CNN Advertising Sales, says it’s not fair to compare sponsorship revenue for a midyear election to a presidential election cycle, because the volume of ad spending is usually much higher in a presidential election year. And during those years, CNN sells election packages to more advertisers.

“Is it as much in volume as the 2008 election year? No. However, is it greater than any other midterm year? Yes,” D’Alba says. “And is it setting us up for our [presidential] election coverage, which will actually start in 2011, to be more than in 2008? Absolutely.”

MSNBC says it has two “anchor sponsors” for its midterm coverage, one of which is a cross-platform sponsor. The network also has three “supporting sponsors.” According to an MSNBC spokesman, “compared to the 2006 midterms, we will have five times the revenue with our 2010 election sales.” (Calls to Fox News Channel were not returned.)

And it’s not only the cable news networks that are cashing in. Comedy Central has signed up Hershey’s, AT&T and Volkswagen as the main sponsors of its Indecision 2010 midyear election coverage. The network estimates that Indecision generates about $50 million in incremental revenue for The Daily Show and The Colbert Report in a presidential year, and will bring in about the same amount during this year’s midterms.

The sponsorship packages include a week of The Daily Show in Washington the week before the election, live election-night programs for both Daily Show and Colbert, plus sponsorship of the rallies Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are holding in Washington. Colbert has already integrated Hershey’s Reese’s brand into his show.

“We are very fortunate that we have great sponsors that are part of our Indecision coverage when it’s a presidential year, but also that we have them as part of our Indecision coverage in midterm elections,” says Jeff Lucas, executive VP, advertising sales, MTV Networks Entertainment Group.

Election-night coverage is attractive to sponsors because “it is the one night that covers all of the parties” and brings in hard-to-reach light television viewers,” says Harry Keeshan, head of national broadcast at media agency PHD. “This year in particular, with the excitement of what’s going to happen with the balance of power in Washington, you’re going to get some real interest, more so than in the past in a non-presidential year.”

The broadcast networks are still lining up their election-night sponsors. CBS says it is discussing packages with key clients, and buyers say ABC had meetings last week to present packages that featured digital coverage, including iPad applications.

The drama of this year’s contests is helping all news programmers, D’Alba says. “Come on. I’d be a fool if I didn’t say it benefited everyone. Of course it does. It’s a groundswell for every news network out there. You have three different players that are going to cover it differently, but our advantage is that we cover more of it.”

CNN’s election sponsors get custom integrated billboards during coverage, co-branded online banners on CNN.com, tagged tunein spots, and in some cases, tagged print ads.

CNN’s Election Center content will be available online, via mobile and through a free app. The app provides updated reporting on state and local races, analysis and results, and polling information. It can be localized, using a ZIP code, and personalized. It can also be used to upload content into CNN’s iReport function.

D’Alba says mobile is becoming increasingly important. “Our ability to reach more consumers on more platforms outside the home is certainly our friend, and that’s going to be an advantage that we have,” he says. “I know it’s not a huge business for everybody today, but it’s the fastest-growing business. And when you look at the way revenue is growing compared to other launches in the history in our media, it’s incomparable.”

E-mail comments to jlafayette@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @jlafayette

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