Wed September 26, 2012
Reporter's Notebook

Apparently, Dancing With The Stars Isn't Dancing With The Political Ads

It was with unbridled enthusiasm that I settled into my living room arm chair Tuesday evening - not with a cold pint of IPA after a long day’s work - but rather a laptop and a remote control searching for ABC’s Dancing with the Stars.

Just one of many perks being a reporter in a swing-state during a presidential election, right?

Well, kind of. I wasn’t really interested in watching Bristol Palin or Kirstie Alley’s encore appearances on the hit show.

Full disclosure: I was interested in the commercials.

Weird, I know, but work is work. This fun little viewing party involved me and five other public media reporters from Iowa, Ohio, New Hampshire, Florida and Virginia – all part of an effort by NPR’s Elections Unit to track political ad dollars and messaging in key swing states.

Facing what’s been a barrage of negative TV advertising and unprecedented spending this election season from Colorado Springs to Columbus, we decided to watch a specific hour of prime-time TV in each of our markets this week and report our findings back to the group; a sort of unscientific analysis to back up some of the trends and numbers we’ve been reporting on lately.

As noted a few days ago, the Denver market ranks third in the nation currently with about $20 million spent on almost 19,000 ads running or scheduled to run between now and Election Day.

But you wouldn’t have known that Tuesday during the 7 p.m. hour of Dancing with the Stars. While a seemingly endless string of commercials for Honda, AT&T, H&M, Samsung – even a Greek yogurt ad – ran during break after break, I counted a whopping three political ads.

One was from Joe Coors, the Republican vying to unseat Democratic Congressman Ed Perlmutter in the 7th Congressional District, and two from President Obama, although one was in that gray area between Wheel of Fortune and prime time so it hardly counts.

A surprise? Maybe.

I mean, it’s telling that my seven-year-old niece who doesn’t even live in this country is among Dancing’s unabashed fans. So it’s probably not a stretch to say that the show’s audience may not be chock-full of active voters, or more importantly this close to the election, undecided voters.

Colorado was not alone Tuesday night either, as NPR’s clever blog post about our “study” notes. Among the six of us, a grand total of 12 political ads were reported. In Iowa, a state that saw more than 15,000 ads run between April 25 and September 8, nada.

As Travis Rideout, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project told the blog:

“Most of the ad time during Dancing with The Stars is reserved for national advertisers (Pepsi, Honda, Wal-Mart) as opposed to local advertisers. Because they are targeting specific voters in specific states, the campaigns buy most of their ads from local TV stations."

So, if nothing else, we did come away from our experiment with one lesson, if you’re sick of seeing political ads, watch a prime-time reality-type show such as Dancing with the Stars.

There’s shelter there, at least until the local news.

In fact, ABC might love you for it. Going into its second season, the Los Angeles Times reported this week that Dancing With the Stars ratings are slipping.

You Can Follow Kirk Siegler on Twitter: @KirkSiegler