Wednesday, September 8, 2010

’10 makes up for ’08 lack of campaign ads

It is make-up time for Chicago television this campaign season.

By that, I mean my initial reaction to a Crain’s Chicago Business report about the “100-year flood” of campaign ads that will appear on Chicago television stations was to think that this merely makes up for the lack of such advertising that we had to endure in 2008.

BECAUSE BARACK OBAMA was the hometown favorite in Illinois and because the Chicago television market dominates the state (two-thirds of Illinois’ population lives in it, along with nearly 10 percent of Indiana’s populace), most of the political campaigns didn’t spend much money on trying to buy campaign ads here. I remember the rural Illinois television stations complaining that they got none of the campaign cash that they were expecting to help support them financially.

It would have been seen by the campaigns as a waste. The Obama campaign had our electoral votes, so he didn’t spend his big bucks here. His opponents figured they could use their money elsewhere.

The only reason “Chicago” as a concept was really involved in the 2008 campaign advertising was because the John McCain campaign came out with one spot that tried to portray Obama as a Chicago political hack born and bred of City Hall. It was so overdone that one almost expected Walter Winchell to narrate it.

In fact, about the only reason anybody in Chicago got to ever see a campaign ad on television was because of the portion of the TV market that stretches across the state line into Indiana.

TO GET THOSE voters in places like Gary, Hammond, Whiting and East Chicago to turn out in significant numbers to sway Indiana's Electoral College votes into the Democratic column, they had to buy television time that was largely wasted on the rest of us. We got to see ads that were so clearly meant for an out-of-town audience. It was bizarre.

But it was also a relief not to be bombarded with so much television politicking – although the campaigns found other ways to get their word out to the point where we still suffered from overload.

Now, we move ahead two years to the present. At a time when various newsgathering organizations are complaining about lost viewership or circulation, the television types are overjoyed that Illinois has competitive campaigns for both U.S. Senate and Illinois governor, along with assorted Congressional seats in certain parts of the state – although those latter candidates are mostly the beneficiaries of national groups that are backing specific political people because they’re of the “right” party, rather than anything specific about the candidates themselves.

Who knows, perhaps we’ll even get to see spots for down ticket campaigns such as Illinois comptroller – although I hope nobody gets any stupid ideas of recycling that old footage from the ’06 campaign cycle of GOP comptroller hopeful Judy Baar Topinka dancing a polka with then-Gov. George Ryan.

I SAW ENOUGH of that clip back then to last a lifetime.

How much more are we talking about?

The business newspaper Crain’s reported this week that Comcast Cable is estimating there will be a 20 percent increase in the amount of money spent on television advertising by political campaigns – compared to the $40 million that was spent in 2008 (it didn’t seem like even that much).

The report also points out that commercial advertising rates are higher now than they were two years ago – about 10 percent. Which means even though campaigns are supposed to get billed at the lowest possible rate for the TV airtime they buy, that “lowest rate” is higher now than it was two years ago.

I REALIZE IT is not a simple equation, but all I know is that I don’t want to hear any griping from the management of the television stations that serve the Chicago media market. They’re about to get a nice infusion of cash that is going to ensure a lot of bills get paid in coming months.

There’s even one other factor that helps – and it is the presence of Scott Lee Cohen on the ballot running for governor.

Back in February and early March, Cohen was good for potential ratings points, as people in those days after the Feb. 2 primary were lapping up every sordid detail about the women other than his wife that he had associated with, and the claims of steroid use and all the other trashy behavior that make many people want to view him as damaged goods, politically.

But Cohen won that primary because he got his name out to the public through the power of television – spending nearly $2 million of his own money on airtime. He has indicated a willingness to do the exact same thing for the general election.

WE GOT NEW broadcast spots from the Pat Quinn and William Brady campaigns at the end of August, and we’re likely to keep getting more and more airtime meant to distort the records of each candidate’s major opponent.

But for people who get all their view of the world from television, it is going to appear to be a three-way campaign that must include Cohen. Which translates into even more campaign trash we are going to have to endure in coming months.

It’s almost enough to make me want to throw my television set out the window.


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