Ad sales are improving for cable but they may not pop as much as many in the industry had hoped, according to information presented at this morning’s opening session of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s annual trade show. “The jury’s still out on what the economic outlook will be in the second half of the year,” Horizon Media CEO Bill Koenigsberg said. Although cable execs say that unit prices for their upfront sales are running about 11% higher than last year, Koenigsberg says “clients now are cautious. I don’t think the barometer of the upfront is a forecast for the future.” Initiative’s Tim Spengler added that he’s “cautiously optimistic” and has seen “no signs of a pullback yet.” The ad execs said that clients may warm to cable once they have a clearer sense of how many people watch their spots, what screens they they watch them on, and how viewers respond to the commercials. “Measurement is not keeping up with the technology,” Mediavest’s Bill Tucker said. “Getting data across screens is the new frontier, and we’re not there yet.” Koenigsberg says that in about six months the industry should have “a true consistent measurement that we can trade on.”

The advertisers followed a panel about the 2012 election on which President Obama political adviser David Axelrod said that broadcasters, especially local TV stations, will continue to receive the lion’s share of campaign ad dollars. Cable companies have been making a big push to attract political ads, saying that they can target ads to specific neighborhoods. But Axelrod says that “if you add those (local) areas up, it isn’t necessarily less expensive than it is to buy the whole market” on a broadcast station. Former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie praised the way Obama used social media in 2008 and said that “on the Republican side, we’ve become more sophisticated” about using platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to mobilize voters. The political operatives both said that they rally likely votes by feeding ideologically friendly platforms, including MSNBC and Fox News, which constantly need fresh stories to report. “Providing free content to cable stations is an easy way to help shape the narrative,” Gillespie said. Axelrod and Gillespie said they didn’t know who the GOP presidential candidate will be, but differed on whether the Tea Party’s growing influence will help. Gillespie says that the movement attracted about 4 million new Republican voters in 2010 and “in what could be a close election, (that) is a big deal.” But Axelrod says that the GOP candidate would be hurt in the general election if he or she “gets drawn far to the right to win that nomination.”