First on CNN: Rubio's ad buying plan hits snag

Analyst: Marco Rubio poses biggest threat in 2016 race
Analyst: Marco Rubio poses biggest threat in 2016 race

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Analyst: Marco Rubio poses biggest threat in 2016 race 04:25

(CNN)Sen. Marco Rubio's plan to buy presidential campaign advertising at a bargain price is hitting a snag: Some television stations are refusing to reserve the airtime.

The GOP presidential candidate planned to reserve at least $10 million in television advertising in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada to air later this year, a Rubio aide said. But a number of Hearst Television stations rejected the Rubio camp's requests, saying it was too early to estimate available inventory and fair advertising rates, according to Federal Communications Commission filings.
"In these markets they know it's going to be a big political season for them," said Karen Rulapaugh, the corporate media director at advertising agency R&R Partners. "The dollars are going to be significant."
It's unclear how much of the campaign's ad buy has been waylaid, but a Rubio adviser said they expect this will only be a temporary setback. "We're confident this will be resolved in short order," the adviser said.
    At least four stations owned by Hearst Television -- including KCCI in Des Moines, Iowa, and WMUR in Manchester, New Hampshire -- declined the Rubio camp's requests to reserve airtime. The other two stations that declined the request cover viewers in New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Georgia.
    The early announcement allows Rubio to send a forceful signal -- to his rivals and to the outside groups supporting him -- about his spending plans. But he may not have to actually shell out $10 million. In many cases campaigns can make reservations ahead of time and pay for the spots in full later. The early reservations tend to be more cost effective and make it more difficult for television stations to bump a campaign's ads into less favorable airtime, several Republican operatives said.
    But it appears stations are hesitant to cut early deals with campaigns months before the race heats up.
    "While this request for time is much appreciated, KCCI cannot accept and clear the order at the present time," Amanda Brink Hull, the general sales manager for KCCI 8 News in Des Moines, Iowa, wrote to Rubio's media buyer. "Orders placed this far in advance involve unknown variables of inventory availability and pricing." In the letters, Hull, as well as sales managers at other stations, said they would work with Rubio's camp to reserve ad time as inventory and pricing information became clearer.
    A Hearst Television spokesman declined to comment.
    While early ad buys like Rubio's are unusual, they are not unprecedented in political races, according to ad buyers and campaign operatives. But with more than a dozen Republican candidates, as well as super PACs and other outside groups, the airwaves will be even more crowded than in a typical presidential cycle.
    "It's an unprecedented number of advertisers who could be buying up very limited inventory," said Betsy Vonderheid, media director at the GOP advertising firm SRCP Media. She said airtime on stations like KCCI and WMUR will be particularly valuable, which could be causing stations to delay these agreements.
    "I think what they're saying is we don't want to book this and have to rebook this because we don't know what our rates are going to be," Vonderheid said.