If you want to avoid the last-minute flood of negative television commercials about the 13th Congressional District race, watch a sitcom. There's a good chance there won't be any political ads.
But if you are a twisted human being who for some reason delights in repeatedly watching the spot where Democrat David Gill is portrayed as a mad scientist or Republican Rodney Davis is labeled a "political insider" (in a commercial paid for by political insiders), watch an NFL game today or "60 Minutes" tonight or "Hawaii Five-0" Monday night. As they have been for weeks, those shows and certain other ones are the prime targets of political media buyers.
A review of the spots bought by the Gill and Davis campaigns at WICD-TV and WCIA-TV in Champaign, as well as by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the American Action Network, shows that those big players in the 13th District race generally are buying the same TV shows: local news programs, "This Week" and "Face the Nation," "Nightline" and "60 Minutes," and Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel and Craig Ferguson.
They also buy "Judge Judy" and her courtroom pal, "Judge Mathis," "Live with Kelly," "General Hospital," "Dr. Phil," "The View," "Entertainment Tonight," "Ellen," "Inside Edition," "The Price is Right," and even reruns of "Little House on the Prairie" and "Matlock."
In prime time they like "Blue Bloods," "The Good Wife," "NCIS," "Person of Interest," "The Amazing Race," "CSI: New York," "Hawaii Five-0," "Malibu Country," "Shark Tank," "Private Practice," "666 Park Avenue" "Apartment 23," Nashville," "Revenge," "Happy Endings," "What Would You Do?" "The Middle" and "Dancing With the Stars."
Almost all of those shows are either dramas or reality shows.
Comedies are not attractive to most political buyers, although the DCCC bought "Happy Endings," "The Middle" and even "America's Funniest Videos."
Part of the reason, said Gregg Durham, an Illinois-based political consultant and pollster, is that sitcoms more than any other kind of TV show aren't watched in real time.
"They are the most watched show that is DVRed, meaning fast-forwarded through" so that viewers can avoid commercials, Durham said.
Plus sitcoms often have too broad an audience, when advertisers or politicians may be looking at a specific demographic, such as men of a particular age.
If you want male viewers, buy football.
The NRCC paid $6,000 for 30 seconds during the Illinois-Michigan football game Oct. 13. The DCCC paid the same amount for 30 seconds during the Illinois-Wisconsin game a week earlier, and $900 for a prime time college game on Sept. 29.
Davis and Gill each paid $2,500 for 30 seconds during game one (Indianapolis-Miami) of today's NFL doubleheader on CBS and another $2,500 for a spot in game 2 (New York Giants-Pittsburgh).
But the big advertising plum this fall appears to be "Dancing With the Stars." Political buyers all seem to like the ABC dance competition. The DCCC was willing to pay $6,000 for a 30-second spot on that show tomorrow night. It bought several spots on "DWTS" in earlier weeks. David Gill bought time on the show too. So did Rodney Davis.
"If you're after an older viewing audience, 'Dancing With the Stars' is a great show," Durham said. "I know people say, 'I'm young and I watch it.' OK, that's fine. But it skews older."
And it skews toward women. And usually it is watched live, so that viewers can talk about it at work or at the coffee shop the next morning. It's almost a perfect political purchase, mainly because older people vote in much greater numbers than younger ones.
That's what media buying is all about: trying to match your precise message with your precise audience.
"But ... if you're trying to persuade a certain group, those television advertisers know exactly who's watching their show. That's how brands of soap or tools or whatever are marketed," Durham said.
Which brings us to the other television audience: cable television, where the market is much smaller but the audience demographic is more precise.
Gill, for example, bought time on Bravo, CNN, E Entertainment, Food Network, Hallmark, HGTV, Lifetime, MSNBC, TBS, TNT, the Weather Channel, and USA.
During September, October and November, Gill had the greatest number of spots on the Food and HGTV channels (294) and the fewest on Lifetime (28). More tellingly, he bought no time on the Fox News Channel or ESPN.
Davis, on the other hand, bought more time on Fox News than any other channel in his last contract period (Oct, 22 to Nov. 4). He also bought time on Arts & Entertainment, American Movie Classics, ESPN, the History Channel, CNN, TBS, TLC, the Weather Channel, Hallmark, MSNBC, TNT and USA.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 351-5221.