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Campaign TV spots become a bargain

Still from TV ads for Sens. and campaign rivals Barack Obama and John McCain

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Kai Ryssdal: Farmers have to wait 'til harvest to figure out how they're going to do. Other businesses can tell you a lot earlier what business is like. Television advertising's one of those. With big banks and automakers losing money hand over fist, advertising budgets have been cut way back. Even the Olympics have a downside to them. Advertisers don't want to be on shows that are competing with the Games. But for a certain type of ad buyer, one who happens to be flush with cash the down economy has created a rare chance to go bargain hunting. From Washington, Marketplace's Steve Henn reports


TV ad: He's the biggest celebrity in the world. (in background)
Obama! Obama!

Steve Henn: And Obama was supposed to be the salvation for local TV stations. Well, him and that John McCain guy, and the hundreds of other candidates running for office. Evan Tracy tracks political ads at the Campaign Media Analysis Group.

Evan Tracy: The stations have been waiting for the political dollars as their, you know, in essence white knight this year in what has been a bad overall advertising economy.

Presidential elections usually bring windfall profits to stations in politically competitive states, but this year, the depressed advertising markets means a glut of air time is up for sale. More than even the all the campaigns can soak up, at least for the moment. And Kyle Ousterhout, an ad buyer for Democratic candidates, says that's created a buyers market for politicians.

Kyle Ousterhout: There has been softness in rates and pricing.

Even honest to goodness discounts.

Ousterhout: To a 15 percent to 20 percent level, sure.

And you know what that means -- Evan Tracy says brace yourself for a barrage of political ads.

Tracy: Absolutely, I mean anytime that something goes on sale the tendency is to buy more of it. You know, so I think a lot these markets are going to be exposed to a lot more political advertising for a lot longer period that even some of them are used to.

Sounds like Christmas in August doesn't it. And just what America always wanted under the tree. More of this...

Second TV ad: Just the party line. The Republican national committee is responsible for the content of this advertising.

In Washington I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.

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