Romney Gains Spell Loss For New Hampshire Stations

Local ad money is disappointing as front-runner comes home for primary
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Mitt Romney’s local ties to New Hampshire and his robust ad buys there four years ago have effectively turned the nation’s first primary on Jan. 10 into a battle for second place. Romney, Rep. Ron Paul, and a super PAC supporting Jon Huntsman are advertising on television in the state, but spending levels are nowhere near what they were four years ago—and are well short of what station executives in the region were banking on.

WMUR Manchester was hoping to get half of the political cash spent in advance of the 2008 event, when both parties held primaries. The ABC affiliate is coming up around 40% shy of that goal. “It’s far lower than anticipated,” says Jeff Bartlett, WMUR president/ general manager. “Romney is so far ahead that most of the candidates, if they had money to spend, are reluctant to spend it here.”

While Rick Santorum’s virtual tie with Romney in last week’s Iowa caucuses gave his campaign a huge shot of energy, there was not enough time to raise enough funds for a TV presence in the Granite State. “Maybe he’ll be on in South Carolina,” Bartlett says of Santorum. “I don’t believe there’s enough time for New Hampshire.”

Manchester is part of the Boston DMA. New Hampshire- licensed stations include WMUR and independent WBIN (formerly MyNetworkTV affiliate WZMY), which debuted a 10 p.m. newscast last fall. GM Gerry McGavick says Romney and Paul are buying time in news, as well as on syndicated shows such as 30 Rock and The Office.

Station execs in Boston proper privately say the primary in neighboring New Hampshire did little for their revenue picture, with the race for Senator Scott Brown’s seat—and perhaps the one for Rep. Barney Frank’s to-be-vacated post—much hotter topics in DMA No. 8. Huntsman’s camp bought time in Boston last month, but not much. “It’s been a disappointment, to say the least,” says one station boss.

New Hampshire is essentially a home game for Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who resides outside Cambridge and keeps a vacation home in New Hampshire. Sen. John McCain, who thwarted Romney for the 2008 crown in New Hampshire, endorsed Romney last week in Manchester.

Reinforcing the power of a TV buy, Bartlett says Romney continues to ride on the wave of his big television expenditures four years ago. “He spent a ton of money; he’s still enjoying the bene! ts of that,” says Bartlett.

While all the Boston stations, as well as cable channel NECN, will doggedly cover the primary, it’s essentially the Super Bowl for the New Hampshire stations. It’ll be a major test for WBIN’s nascent newsroom. “We’ll certainly participate as much as we can with a new news operation,” says McGavick.

WMUR, which cohosted a Jan. 7 debate with ABC, airs an hour-long special at 10 p.m. on Jan. 9 and will be all hands on deck Jan. 10. “We’ll go from 8 p.m. until it’s over,” Bartlett says.

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