"We are entering a post-broadcast age of politics," says Simon Rosenberg, a founder of the New Politics Institute think tank, "and the Republicans have been getting there faster than the Democrats." Rosenberg co-authored the report "Buy Cable" with Theo Yedinsky.
The study's arguments will sound familiar to any media-industry veteran. Cable delivers better geographic and demographic targeting. It also costs less, and offers a better CPM for the price than national broadcast.
In 2004, a PQ Media study found that candidates and party committees spent roughly $1.5 billion on broadcast TV and $80 million on cable.
"It is common practice to buy broadcast in an area where 80 percent is wasted," Rosenberg says--specifically citing buys in the Philadelphia market to reach voters in southern New Jersey, and Boston buys to reach New Hampshire. "But there is this perverse incentive to keep all spending through traditional broadcast because that's where [political] media consultants make their money."
While agreeing that there is a greater place for cable buys in political marketing strategy, one expert thinks the study's recommendations are overly enthusiastic.
"It's an early retirement package for campaign managers who decide to go that route," says Evan Tracey, COO of TNS Media Intelligence's Campaign Media Analysis Group. "The strategy looks good on paper, but cable is best served as part of a larger strategy built around broadcast ... you need to maximize your exposure in the homestretch."
Tracey notes that undecided voters swing elections, but often don't pay close attention until the final days of a campaign--when it becomes almost impossible for any ad to cut through the clutter.
"By that point, if you're not part of the volume, you're giving your opponent an advantage," Tracey says. "To campaign managers and media consultants, if you've run as many media buys as your opponent, plus one, you've run a winning media campaign. I didn't say it was good for America, but it's good for business."
Gary Bellis, a spokesman for the Television Bureau of Advertising, says that while cable's CPMs are better than national broadcast, local broadcast outdistances them both. He also cites the smaller amount of inventory available for local buys on cable and the fact that not all TV viewers have cable--two points that are acknowledged in the NPI's report.
The report, succinctly titled, "Buy Cable," is the first of four from the NPI recommending new messaging platforms and strategies for successful political marketing in the 21st century. The subsequent three will address search, blogging and speaking Spanish.