Billion Dollars Bribery: As presidential candidates prepare to raise and spend $1 B on TV Ads for ‘08, it’s time for digital era reform

Advertising Age reports that U.S. presidential candidates are expected to spend $1 billion buying TV spots for the 2008 race. What this means, of course, is that our political leaders will be selling bits of themselves to well-heeled donors and special interests. How can we have a democracy that addresses our most serious problems when the very forces likely contributing to them are helping foot the TV ad costs? We can’t, even in this age of direct contributions via the Net. The big bucks raised are ultimately bribes from folks representing Wall Street, Silicon Valley, the Chamber of Commerce, and Hollywood.

The emerging new media platforms of broadband, mobile, and digital TV will be the methods of choice for delivering political marketing messages. Personalized style communications sent to digital video recorders, iPods, cell phones, along with “Second Life” style virtual press conferences, will soon replace traditional broadcast TV advertising. We need a law requiring free access on such platforms for all candidates (which would be accompanied by refinements in campaign finance limits). In a media world without communications scarcity ( such as with old media style broadcast TV) there is no reason to continue the “pay us for access to voter eyeball” type of media industry shenanigans.

Failure to address the problem of political communication access to the digital media will only result in the old system shaping how new media addresses our elections. It will be a pay-per-voter system where both the gatekeepers of old (Fox, Disney, Comcast) and new (AT&T, Verizon, Google) charge what the traffic will be forced to pay. A $1B tab for 2008 will be seen as a quaintly modest affair, as new media outlets reap many more future political profits (and power).

Here’s an excerpt from Ad Age: “Amid mouthwatering visions of more than $1 billion in spending on the most wide-open race since the TV era began, stations will have to devise some way to handle the rush when close to two dozen candidates come knocking at the same time… Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of TNSMI/Campaign Media, said advertising could well start in force this summer, with candidates trying to introduce or establish themselves early. Despite the early start, time is still an issue. “This kind of wide-open race is unprecedented, and there is only so much [ad] time,” said Jim Boyer, president and general manager of Des Moines station WHO-TV, a CBS affiliate.”

“TV Stations Prepare for $1 Billion Presidential Ad Onslaught
Dozens of Candidates Create Most Wide-Open Race Since TV Era Began.” Ira Teinowitz. Ad Age. January 29, 2007

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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