Targeted ads key in election battlegrounds

ANALYSIS: Easy-to-overlook channels offer high concentrations of voters with particular affiliations.

Barack Obama might be outspending him on TV, but John McCain may have some effective, cheaper options for advertising in the crucial battleground states.

A new Nielsen PreView study scrutinizing the media consumption habits of U.S. voters in 13 of the most hotly contested states found that strategic media buying in cable could yield easy-to-overlook channels that offer high concentrations of viewers belonging to particular political parties.

For instance, the automotive-themed cable network Speed Channel managed to attract higher concentrations of both Republican and independent voters than any other channel – even more than the 24-hour news networks.

That could be good news for McCain as he seeks to appeal to Republicans and independents even as he trails Obama in media spending by a ratio of 3-to-1 in the battleground states, according to the Wisconsin Advertising Project. The study found Obama and McCain together spent $28 million from Sept. 28-Oct. 4 on TV ads.

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The PreView study, based on an online survey of 40,000 registered voters conducted Sept. 30, highlights the most efficient options for reaching viewers strictly by their political affiliation in the states where the bulk of marketing and campaigning will be targeted in the final weeks before the Nov. 4 election.

This study was derived from the latest poll results from MyTHR, a joint effort of The Hollywood Reporter and Nielsen PreView. Readers periodically vote via on a topic of their interest to be further explored by PreView.

The findings also shed new light on long-held assumptions about the political composition of the audiences for some prominent broadcast and cable channels. While both CNN and MSNBC -- often criticized as left-leaning TV networks -- finished among the top 10 highest concentrations of Democrat-registered viewers in battleground states, both were topped by entertainment channels BET and VH1.

Top 5 channel favorites (battleground)
Top 5 channel favorites (national)
Audiences for broadcast networks
Audiences for cable news networks

But even more surprising was the emergence of Speed as the leading source for Republican viewers, who were 52% likelier to watch the channel than the average U.S. household, beating out Fox News Channel -- long considered a Republican favorite -- which finished second with 48%.

However, when measured across all 50 states, Fox News topped Speed 48%-28%. Other TV favorites for Republicans on the national level included Golf Channel, which finished second to Fox News at 32%, followed by Hallmark Channel at 29%.

Speed also had the highest concentration of independent voters in the battleground states, with 72%. Other top finishers among independents included CNBC (48%), Travel Channel (44%) and CNN Headline News (33%).

As for Speed's surprising combination of Republican and independent voters, likely factors include the prominence of NASCAR among red-staters and a growing corps of younger viewers to explain the indie influx.

On the national level among independents, CNBC finished atop the pack with 36%, slightly ahead of Speed (35%) and Travel (32%).

On the Democrat side across the battleground states, CNN was a solid third (39%) behind BET and VH1. While VH1's schedule is filled with fizzy celebrity-driven reality shows that probably don't play big with right-wingers, BET's predominantly black audiences also tend to be registered Democrats.

While the broadcast networks boasted the highest totals of political parties because they have the biggest audiences, that makes them a less targeted, more expensive proposition. While a whopping 84% of Republicans in the battleground states that were surveyed reported watching Fox Broadcasting Co. in comparison with the 50% that did same for Fox News, Republican viewers were 48% more likely to watch than the average household -- three times more than they did Fox Broadcasting.

Consequently, if McCain were to buy Fox Broadcasting airtime, he likely would be paying more to reach viewers he doesn't need to target.

Among 24-hour news channels in the battleground states, Fox News (48%) did best with Republicans, while CNN (39%) garners the highest concentration among Democracts, followed by MSNBC (30%), CNBC (25%) and CNN Headline News (20%). CNBC (48%) exhibits a clear advantage among independents, although CNN Headline News (33%) and CNN (25%) also register at high levels.

The battleground states surveyed were Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

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