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Where the Voters Are

Well-run businesses hate nothing more than an opportunity — and profits — missed.

But that’s exactly the scenario that leaders of the cable TV industry were confronting as they contemplated their puny piece of the political advertising pie.

Despite the fact that 53 percent of daily television viewers are now tuning in to cable compared with 34 percent in 1996 (while 34 percent are watching broadcast stations, down from 54 percent), political campaigns spend only 5 percent of their advertising budgets on cable.

Even with 31 percent of viewers now turning to cable for election news (compared with 24 percent for network TV and 25 percent for local TV) and advertising costs on cable vastly cheaper than over-the-air rates, cable has not been a player in the political game.

But knowing that something like $1.5 billion is going to be spent on political advertising in the 2004 cycle, the cable industry has decided to do something to become competitive.

“They knew they were missing out on the money,” said Mike Stratton, a Denver-based Democratic consultant. “They didn’t understand why.”

To help figure out why, cable giants Comcast, Cox and Time Warner, which collectively represent about 70 percent of the national market, hired Target Media Networks, a Denver-based media consulting firm, to help put the cable industry on political campaigns’ radar screens. TMN turned to Stratton and Republican consultant Doug Goodyear (of the Washington, D.C.-based DCI Group) to set up meetings between industry executives and political players to discuss cable’s potential as a political advertising tool.

“We have spent the last three months driving this message home,” Stratton said.

Part of the reason cable has been missing out on so much political advertising, he added, is that executives at local cable outlets don’t understand politics — or the unique demands and scheduling needs of political advertising.

Advertising salespeople at cable stations don’t peddle their wares to political campaigns, Stratton said, because they are “looking for low-hanging fruit, for commissions.”

They must be doing something right, because local ad revenues on cable have

grown from about $500 million in 1996 to $4.2 billion in 2002.

But TMN’s Stephen Cunningham said the cable industry is starting to get the message that political ads represent a huge opportunity.

Comcast, for example, has placed political specialists in each of its regional offices. The cable industry now has more than 110 “interconnects” (including 72 in the top 100 markets), creating one-stop shopping — and just a single invoice — for a political campaign or interest group looking to place an ad across the country. National Cable Communications, a national spot cable ad sales organization put together by the industry Big Three, has changed its operating procedures to facilitate political buys on cable networks.

“It’s an exciting evolution in the arena,” Cunningham said.

The cable industry is also pitching the concept of “leased access” to the political community. Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), for example, hosts a regular half-hour show on cable access channels throughout Arkansas, and reaches a phenomenal number of voters — and gets a corresponding amount of feedback, Cunningham said.

The cable industry’s aim is to get about 20 percent of all political advertising in the 2004 cycle.

“The goal is to level the playing field based on viewership,” Stratton said. “It’s going to be a long process.”

Hitching His Saddle to Burr. Rep. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) has hired Stephanie Hawco to be communications director for his Senate campaign. She started the job Monday.

Since 1998, Hawco covered politics for WRAL-TV in Raleigh. She has also worked at television stations in Mobile, Ala., and Midland, Texas.

Hawco will work in Raleigh through the end of November and then relocate to the campaign headquarters in Winston-Salem beginning Dec. 1.

Young Money Is Like Yeast. Four 23-year-old Washingtonians collaborated to raise money Saturday for the Democratic National Committee and six Democratic-leaning political action committees. Friends Bridget Murphy, Carrie Johnson, Robert Campbell and Justin Weinstein-Tull had 50 or so friends, all in their 20s and 30s, to a “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is” party at a home in Washington. They invited their friends to “invest” in either the DNC or one of six PACs “that we think young progressives will get excited about,” Johnson said.

The quartet’s goal is to get young, politically active liberals in the habit of regularly making political contributions. In addition to the DNC, the lucky recipients were the Progressive Majority, WE LEAD, EMILY’s List, National Stonewall Democrats, Congressional Black Caucus PAC and Independent Action.

If you have news about campaign hires, comings and goings in the consulting world, or other tidbits of interest about political professionals, please e-mail them to jdk@rollcall.com.

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