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ABC Jumps Too Late On Obama's 'Buy'

By Lisa de Moraes
Tuesday, October 28, 2008

ABC finally offered Barack Obama's camp the 8 p.m. half-hour in its Wednesday lineup for his campaign-related program -- which will air at that time on the other major broadcast networks.

But, in an ironic twist, the Democratic presidential candidate's campaign passed on ABC's offer, saying it has allocated the funds elsewhere.

"We were in discussion with the Obama campaign and had offered them the half-hour, but at this point that's not happening and 'Pushing Daisies' will air in its regular time slot," an ABC spokesman told The TV Column yesterday. ABC already has begun airing ads telling viewers, "Wednesday you have a choice -- get political with the other networks or" watch a new episode of "Pushing Daisies" at 8 p.m.

More then two weeks ago, Obama's campaign approached the broadcast networks about purchasing the first half-hour of tomorrow's prime time -- a highly unusual, and relatively expensive, buy for a candidate -- to make what navel-gazers are now calling his "closing argument" to voters in re why he should be elected president.

CBS and NBC were the first to agree to sell Obama's camp the program time, at around $1 million each.

Fox followed days later, after Major League Baseball agreed to postpone the first pitch of Game 6 of the World Series by about 15 minutes to enable the network to join CBS and NBC, and its cable network, MSNBC, in running Obama's 30-minute message just six days before the election. Fox agreed to air the Obama "program" at 8 in the Eastern and Central time zones, and after the game on the West Coast. Fox is contractually obligated to carry a Game 6 tomorrow, should the series come to that. Otherwise, the network had nothing to lose by airing Obama programming in the time slot, given that its World Series fallback plan is always "Some Rerun."

That left ABC as the only major broadcast network that had not sold that half-hour to the Obama campaign.

ABC, which has spent the gross national product of a Third World country trying to relaunch its three struggling Wednesday sophomore dramas, originally offered to sell Obama's campaign other time slots on other nights. That way it wouldn't have to preempt one of its hour-long shows to make room for Obama's 30-minute telecast.

But the Obama camp passed, hoping to create what's called a "roadblock" across broadcast TV.

A viewing roadblock occurs when all the broadcast networks air the same program simultaneously. The most notable roadblock may be the celebrity-studded two-hour "America: A Tribute to Heroes" fundraiser for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, which was telecast simultaneously on not only the broadcast networks but many cable networks, as well.

ABC execs finally decided to slide their entire prime-time lineup to make space for the Obama buy, which involved discussions with affiliate stations. But "by the time ABC got back to us, our plans were already set," an Obama campaign rep told The TV Column.

Speaking thereof, Nielsen Media Research just posted an updated analysis of presidential campaign advertising in the seven key swing states: Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. And, not surprisingly, Obama's advertising in those states continues to surpass the number of ad units run by his opponent, John McCain.

In those states, Obama placed 155 percent more ad units (62,022 vs. 24,273) than McCain between Oct. 6 and 26, Nielsen reports. Obama's advertising continues to be heaviest in Florida. He ran 18,909 ads there in the same time frame, outpacing McCain's 5,702 ads by 232 percent, Nielsen added. The data include national and local spots seen in these states, as well as syndicated advertising but do not include local cable ads.

Yesterday afternoon, Obama's half-hour "program" was fed to the networks that will carry it at 8 p.m. tomorrow.

Political observers were calling the speech Obama delivered yesterday in Ohio the template for tomorrow's time-buy address. In the speech, Obama told his audience: "In one week we can choose hope over fear, unity over division, the promise of change over the power of the status quo. In one week, we can come together as one nation, and one people, and once more choose our better history. That's what's at stake. That's what we're fighting for. And, if in this last week, you will knock on some doors for me, and make some calls for me, and talk to your neighbors, and convince your friends; if you will stand with me and fight with me and give me your vote, then I promise you this -- we will . . . not just win this election, but together we will change this country and we will change the world."

Obama also told the packed house at the Canton Civic Center that "all of us must do our part as parents to turn off the television and read to our children and take responsibility for providing the love and guidance they need."

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