Houston 2009 Cable Markets

Time for a little primer on TV & cable advertising for this Mayoral election.

There's a type of buy you can place called an interconnect and you can also buy smaller zones throughout the Houston area. If you buy interconnect (more money per spot), there's a bit of spillage into non-COH households, but you maximize your ability to be on the air in all COH households that Comcast covers (which is close to all of them).

Different campaigns will take different approaches to fit their advertising strategy to their overall gameplan. And bear in mind that the bulk of ad spending is still spent on broadcast. Here's the overall approach each of the Mayorals is taking:

Parker: 24% on Cable; 76% on Broadcast (28% on KHOU)
Locke: 28% on Cable; 82% on Broadcast (35% on KHOU)
Brown: 15% on Cable; 85% on Broadcast (33% on KHOU)

I break it down the way I do to highlight the relative importance of cable and where they're putting their broadcast dollars. I don't have ratings information handy, but KHOU is generally the better rated, better audience, and hence ... more expensive station. It usually makes sense to skew the numbers so that you end up spending more there. By comparison, KPRC is essentially the ratings equivalent of MSNBC. It's not mistake that you likely saw State Rep candidates advertising on there in 2008.

As a matter of personal preference, the more you can get on KHOU, the better. Given that I'm not breaking out details for what type of shows they're advertising on, there are some obvious exceptions.

There's not really a right answer or a wrong answer for how the candidates have split their buys up. I think each has an approach that fits their campaign fairly well, at least on the broad outlines of their spending.

But some deeper detail let's us see how the campaigns are spending their money on cable, in particular.

Parker: 80% Interconnect; 20% Zones (Inner Loop, Galleria, North Houston)
Locke: 10% Interconnect; 90% Zones (many)
Brown: 0% Interconnect; 100% Zones (many ... including some that make no sense)

This is where you start to see a bit of how the campaigns are trying to key in on certain types of voters. Again, not necessarily a wrong/right answer here, though I do think Brown's approach is pushing it toward "wrong" and Annise might have been better served on a limited budget flooding the few cable zones with ads rather than using interconnect as heavily as she did. That's a debatable call, though.

Gene, from what I know, is using the heavy-zone approach to target certain types of voters in each zone (the Pearland zone, for instance, covers a lot of southside African-American precincts). There's a logic to this approach. I've not been in a situation to buy on that basis, other than pushing Ashish Mahendru as heavily as I could in the Westchase zone in SW Houston.

One way of looking at the cutoff point for buying the interconnect vs zones is that if you look to buy 10 zones, you may as well get the interconnect. That's about how the cost differential per spot breaks out. There are effectively 9 zones that cover most of Houston. Peter Brown was buying 11 zones based on my last check.

Here's where some of Brown's spending makes no sense. First, an overview of what you see below: Yellow is the City of Houston boundary. The three shapes you see represent the boundaries of three different cable television market zones - North Houston is at the bottom; Cypress is the upper left; and Champions is the upper right.

From a quick glance, you can probably tell that there might be more voters in the North Houston zone than the other two. In fact, here's the count of voters from 2009 and Registered Voters in the precincts covered by Champions and Cypress cable markets:

Zone ...... 2009 .. RegVot
Cypress ... 106 ... 1,474
Champions .. 83 ... 2,562
TOTAL ..... 183 ... 4,036

Peter Brown spent over $10,000 a week since roughly Labor Day to appeal to about 200 or so voters. He's not the only candidate dropping good money in an empty cable zone, either. MJ Khan did the same thing for his ad buy, rendering about 5% of his 3-week ad buy to the waste bin. It's not a huge sum on either's part, but it's the type of move that should raise some questions about attention to detail.

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