Although Nielsen Monitor-Plus shows broadcast spot up nearly 6% in the third quarter, buyers generally see a flat fourth quarter (excluding political spending) and a slow January. However, Universal McCann's Robert Coen expects +9% growth in spot TV in 2004 (see story at left).
"January tends to be sluggish as clients finish up calendar-year plans," says Maribeth Papuga, senior VP, MediaVest. "Stations are trying to pace themselves according to [anticipated] political spending. Issue ads will pay top dollar, and Iowa grows more prominent."
The question of the moment is, does Al Gore's endorsement of presidential wannabe Howard Dean slow down local political spending by all those other Democrats or, in fact, spur them to spend more?
"The others will put up a fight until they run out of money or polls tell them they don't have a fighting chance," opines Mary Barnas, senior vice president, Carat.
"I don't think it will change anything for the first two primaries—too many egos to throw in the towel this early," says Bonita LeFlore, executive VP, Zenith Media. "Then you'll see a meltdown to two or three candidates, who will go through the next wave of primaries in March."
Papuga believes 2004 political spending on broadcast won't reach 2002 levels, let alone the $1.6 billion that Sanford C. Bernstein's Tom Wolzien predicts. Papuga sees total political dollars "closer to $1 billion," with more going to cable than in the previous political season. "The trend is driving dollars to local cable news channels."