One key takeaway from CampaignTech: advertising inventory seems to be selling out fast, particularly in those eternal tossup states like Florida and Ohio. According to various conference-goers, campaigns, party committees, independent expenditure groups, PACs and unions are busily reserving television time months in advance. The same is apparently true for coveted digital spaces such as the big battleground-state newspaper sites and even Politico.com (I heard Politico’s frontpage is already completely unavailable during at least one of the party conventions, and it didn’t go cheap).
Television ad slots have been scarce in contested states during election seasons before, but the combination of big-money super-PACs and the expectation that both presidential campaigns will spend heavily seems to be driving political actors to reserve time much earlier than usual. And in what may be a first, they’re not just reserving TV time — many campaigns and outside groups are also buying up online real estate months in advance. Facebook, Google and other large properties are lining up big chunks of ad space for those willing to pay, and CampaignGrid’s Jordan Lieberman predicted during the conference that digital video ad inventory (on YouTube and Hulu, for instance) for the Fall will sell out completely in 15+ battleground states by August. Others seemed to regard that estimate as conservative!
In part, I suspect that the early online ad buying is a hedge against TV time being unavailable (and against people’s use of DVRs to avoid commercials), but it does also reflect the sense that digital ad space has become valuable on its own — online ads aren’t just an “also-ran” this year. At CampaignTech, I was impressed by the general level of online ad knowledge displayed in panel discussions, both by panelists and by audience-members during Q&A. In this year’s elections, that knowledge is going to go to work. The big question: how will voters react to an advertising bombardment? What’ll be the online equivalent of Tivo’ing shows to skip the ads?