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Political Advertising Helps to Push Up the Price of California's Television Spots


California's decision to fold its primary election into the Super Tuesday political sweepstakes has helped quintuple prices for some spot advertising on local television stations.

The cost of a last-minute 30-second spot purchased during a local late-night news show has mushroomed recently to $25,000, up from $5,000 on Jan. 1, according to Initiative Media, a Los Angeles-based media-buying company.

Airwaves already heavy with ads for California's ballot initiatives have been further saturated by spots from Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns. The political ad surge comes at a time when demand already is super-heated by traditional companies benefiting from the strong economy and dot-coms that spend heavily to establish their online brands.

Presidential hopefuls get a financial break because federal regulations guarantee candidates the cheapest available commercial ad rates. Broadcasters also must provide equal time, so if a Republican or Democrat buys time during the evening, the station must make equivalent space available for opponents. But everybody else winds up paying higher rates for the remaining advertising slots.

"The sad thing is that the presidential campaign takes up a lot of inventory, and the stations are giving it away at the lowest rates," said Chuck Bachrach, a media buyer with Rubin Postaer & Associates in Santa Monica. "What can happen to another buyer--who's paying full price--is that your ad is in danger of being bumped."

"California always has been an important state, but putting the primary on Super Tuesday raises the state's level of importance," said Louis N. Schultz, chief executive officer of Initiative Media, which conducted $5.4 billion in media buys last year for such clients as Walt Disney Co.

Traditional advertisers, including financial institutions and auto manufacturers, typically avoid the added costs by agreeing to buy ads several months in advance at lower rates. "You don't want to pay 28 times what a spot is worth," Schultz said.

Hefty price increases also affect supporters and proponents of ballot initiatives, who can't afford to sit by until prices cool. Heavy demand for broadcast time also has pushed proposition advertising into cable television and radio, Crawford said.

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