Fox Stumps for Election Sponsors

U.S. Telecommunications, DaimlerChrysler ink category-exclusive deals

During election years, the obvious battle is for voters. Behind the scenes, the war at TV news organizations is for the hearts, minds, and wallets of advertisers. With the presidential matchup clear, Fox News Channel is enlisting sponsors for election coverage.

The news net signed up U.S. Telecommunications Association and DaimlerChrysler as category-exclusive sponsors, and ad sales chief Paul Rittenberg says he's close to nabbing a financial-services firm. He's eyeing one or two more, likely a pharmaceutical advertiser and a tech company. (Covering all bases, DaimlerChrysler is also sponsoring CNN's election coverage, as are Samsung Electronics and AT&T.)

At Fox, the price of admission is several million dollars per client. That buys featured placement throughout Fox News' summer political coverage, the party conventions, and election night, when Fox will reduce its commercial load.

"Our political coverage is a hook for hundreds of millions we'll do in business in 2004," says Rittenberg. Fox News will take in an estimated $400 million this year in ad sales revenue, up from about $300 million last year.

"I will be happy to let people see how well we're doing, and make deals as they come up," Rittenberg promises.

To entice advertisers, Fox trotted out political aces Brit Hume and Chris Wallace to handicap the presidential race at a luncheon for media buyers and their clients last week. They didn't have predictions, but Hume noted that "presidential general elections tend to be decided by conditions in the country," not by good ads, charisma, or even effective campaigning. Still, Chris Wallace, host of Fox News Sunday, predicts "the longest and dirtiest campaign" ever.

News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch and Fox News chief Roger Ailes were also on hand. Ailes regaled the crowd with stories of starting the network in 1996: "It was a heck of a gamble."

He admits some mocked the new venture. "Since then," he boasts, "we've gone on to be very successful."