Issue: Will 2008 presidential campaigns waste millions on strike-crippled network television?
Commentary by: David Vinjamuri
As the Hollywood writer’s strike spins through the holiday season into 2008, the distinct possibility of a perfect storm for advertising in the 2008 US Presidential campaign season looms.Â Could the combination of the strike with lavish televisionÂ advertising spending on the race waste millions in donated money?
If it lasts any longer, the Hollywood writer’s strike will have two significant victims: the fall TV lineup, and the presidential campaigns which already upend conventional advertising wisdom every four years with absurdly over-saturated media plans.Â This all comes at a time when television advertising is already a dubious proposition: primetime television reached just half the households last year as it did in 1994, even though the U.S. has added 40 million residents.Â In the same period, primetime CPM (the cost to reach 1000 prime time viewers) has spiked from $7.64 to over $20.
The effect of the Hollywood writer’s strike thus far has been modest, evidenced mostly from the emergence of questionable reality tv pilots and gameshows onto the prime time schedule (Battle of the Choirs, anyone?)Â But the strike is already threatening the traditional winter/spring pilot season, when networks invest in producing test episodes for a host of potential new shows for the fall.Â Even if this archaic system is restructured, a strike lasting into the Spring would wreak havoc on the fall television lineup.
Add to this the enormous and distorting effect of presidential campaign television spending.Â The Wall Street Journal estimates that “candidates, political parties and issues groups are expected to spend $3 billion this election cycle.”Â Most of this will be spent on television.Â These will mostly be spot purchases in local markets, but they will have a tremendously distorting effect on an industry much in need of reform.Â And television depends on high-visibility content from primetime to drive overall viewership.
So the likely result may be this: billions of dollars will be spent on clumsy, unsubtle television advertising.Â In order to reach the least frequent television viewers, candidates and other political ad buyers will scrap conventional wisdom on ad wear out rates (how many times a person can see the same ad before it starts to wear out and have the opposite effect intended) and oversaturate the medium.
The shame of all of this is that campaigns seem to be ignoring a huge opportunity with new media.Â There are more people than ever watching video on the web.Â A number of advertisers, from Smirnoff Raw Tea to Brawny have demonstrated the ability to create appealing branded entertainment with video on the web.Â And if the Hollywood writers strike continues, the audience for this type of programming may skyrocket.Â In addition, there are a large number of talented writers currently idle, unable to work for studios or production companies, who could still be engaged directly by advertisers.Â In spite of this, web campaign spending is below relative viewership rates of television to the Internet.Â Ironically, politicians may be the ones getting sold a bill of goods in this election season.