Who Wins in the Super Pac Ad Spree?

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Unlimited spending means TV stations in swing states could see record numbers of attack ads, but the web might be a bigger beneficiary.

The 2012 presidential race will undoubtedly be the most expensive in U.S. history, boosted by so-called super PACs, which can collect and spend money without limits. That influx of cash likely will create an advertising boom for television, particularly local outlets in battleground states. Analysts predict that this contest will easily surpass the record $2.3 billion spent on TV advertising in 2008. So far, though, broadcast outlets have not been deluged with issue or candidate ads.

It's been a steady buildup that began during the last cycle's Democratic primary battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The largest pro-Obama super PAC -- Priorities USA Action, backed by such Hollywood figures as Jeffrey Katzenberg -- already has purchased TV time in such key states as South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Iowa and Colorado. Bill Fine, GM at Boston ABC affiliate WCVB, notes that Massachusetts stations have "seen a lot more interest" since Scott Brown, a Tea Party favorite, snagged the seat held for nearly 50 years by Democrat Edward Kennedy.

Overall, Moody's predicts a 9 percent to 18 percent increase in ad purchases from 2010 midterm levels, though many observers see a 20 percent jump. Kenneth Goldstein, president of Kantar's Campaign Media Analysis Group, foresees $2.5 billion to $3.2 billion in political TV spending, with the presidential race accounting for a substantial portion of those expenditures. Still, the campaign might not provide quite the widespread stimulus broadcasters anticipate.

Many strategists are choosing to blend tightly targeted broadcast ads in hotly contested states with broad social media efforts and Internet videos. Through October, according to Federal Election Commission filings, Obama's campaign already had spent $1 million on web ads compared with $5 million by all his prospective GOP challengers combined.

Four years ago, Obama spent more than $26 million on the web. "Spending will increase across all platforms," says longtime Democratic strategist Michael Feldman. "But it is likely that the Internet and digital campaigning will see the most growth."