While the amount of money the campaigns are collectively expected to spend online this year won't likely amount to more than a rounding error compared to the hundreds of millions expected to be spent on broadcast ads, it marks the beginning of a broader shift away from candidates' reliance on traditional media.
Compared to the previous presidential election, it's a bonanza, and it's going nowhere but up -- unlike television and newspaper ads, online ads drive interested parties directly to requests for money and contact information. For the first time the campaigns can quickly calculate a financial ROI for an online ad down to the penny. You can't do that with a TV ad. At this point in the election season, money is as important, if not more important, than differentiating oneself from the others.
Political bloggers receive a windfall in two respects -- the revenues from ads, as well as as the clout that comes from serving as a virtual campaign bundler. I'm curious to see how this space evolves.
For example, in the next campaign cycle will we see a bunch of new political blogs sprout up in the hopes of earning some of that ad revenue? And will some those blogs be built by the traditional media organizations that are starting to lose money? Will the big political blogs start developing a "seasonal business" model, where they bring on more contributors as the political ad season switches into high gear, and then ratchet back once the elections are over and the ad revenue dries up? Or will they start providing more combined earned/paid media packages, where buying an ad also gets you a chat or a guest post or a podcast?
And will the campaigns ultimately decide that social networking opportunities like those currently available on Facebook are more efficient means of raising funds?
Political blogs in each ideological camp tend to cooperate with one another right now, but as the ad revenue pool grows I'm wondering if they'll start looking at each other more as competitors. Make no mistake, political blogging will become big business in the next few years - as long as blogs continue to be primary portals of political content.
The other interesting development for political bloggers is the evolving primary process itself. As states push for earlier and earlier primaries, it's more likely that a nominee is chosen well before primary season is over. What happens then? Candidates that have dropped out aren't spending ads, and general election candidates may choose to keep the powder dry. Politically it will be a dangerous time because all we'll likely see are constant attacks against each presumptive nominee - in the absence of real news or discussion, I'm afraid that's what we'll see. Perhaps candidate ads will be replaced by attack ads from third parties. But that scenario can reduce the clout of the political blogger to a great extent.