Obama drops nearly $2 mil on prime-time TV airtime

He uses new media outlets to buy time on old media.

Published October 10, 2008 8:10PM (EDT)

While Obama is clearly the Internet candidate -- raising money in unprecedented numbers online -- and obviously has the better Web site (with ring tones!), it's rather telling that he's choosing to spend a fair chunk of that money on a pretty traditional medium: television.

The Obama campaign, according to one entertainment industry blog, just dropped about $2 mil on 30 minutes of airtime on CBS and NBC. The candidates for president and vice president presumably will make some sort of address to the American public in an uninterrupted form where they can say whatever they want.

Sixteen years ago, Ross Perot made a similar move on ABC for 30 minutes. There, in a boardroom-style presentation (complete with charts and a pointer), he talked about the economy and how he would do a much better job handling the economy than Messieurs Clinton or Bush. He spent $380,000 (or about $555,000 in today's dollars) for the pleasure. In Perot's age, when the Web was just in its infancy, there was no other medium for a major presidential candidate to use to get his message out to the public.

Today, despite the fact that everyone and his or her mom are live-blogging the event, that networks are getting audience response in a more "interactive way," it's interesting that in the end the easiest way to reach the country -- and especially the parts of the country that are most purple -- continues to be television.

Despite the YouTube debates, the Twitter debates and all sorts of gimmickry that we've seen thus far, in the end, it's television that matters for these types of nationally broadcast messages. Despite all the hype online with folks like Obama Girl, it says something when you're willing to drop serious coin to be on nationwide airwaves.

Wayne Steger, a professor of political science at DePaul University, calls it "rather atypical," noting that in modern politics only Perot made a similar move.

"The idea that he's going national tells us that he's pretty comfortable where he is in the competitive states, and that tells us that he's not just looking for a win, but a big win," he told me in a phone interview.

And to me, that's one of the most sobering elements of this entire election season -- those of us netizens who are overwhelmingly young, mobile, online and more likely pro-Obama aren't the ones who really matter, despite the fact that American World of Warcraft players outnumber American farmers.

What matters is that those people who watch him, and like what they see (remember that his acceptance speech took in 38 million people), actually turn out to vote.

By Cyrus Farivar

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