With fewer competitive races and the growth of political ads placed by outside groups, plus growing competition from digital, broadcast TV’s expected take of campaign money this election season have dipped. However, it remains the No. 1 choice, “it’s still the big play.”
Despite increased spending on digital platforms, campaign strategists say broadcast television still trumps all other media as a means for reaching voters, meaning that TV stations continue to get the bulk of political money, too.
“TV is still the big megaphone,” Robin Roberts, CEO and co-founder of National Media Research Planning and Placement, a Republican media planning firm. “TV viewership may have dipped a little bit but it’s still the big play.”
Roberts’ comments were part of a panel discussion on political ad spending Tuesday at the TVB Forward conference in New York, during which participants discussed a range of issues — where campaigns are spending their ad dollars, targeted advertising and what local TV can do to improve its value among them. Meet the Press host Chuck Todd, NBC’s political director, moderated the session.
Spending forecasts for the current political season back up Roberts’ claim.
According to Elizabeth Wilner, SVP of political for the consultancy Kantar Media Intelligence, campaigns are expected to spend $2.4 billion in advertising on broadcast TV this year, with another $600 million to $800 million going to cable. That’s a “modest increase” of about $100 million from the political money spent on broadcast during 2010, the last midterm elections, she said.
Yet speakers also said that broadcast TV is not infallible, and that factors from airing poor quality programming to gauging campaigns on ad prices could unseat the medium from being strategists’ No. 1 choice for advertising.
“You all have a problem, which is content,” said GMMB partner Brad Perseke. “Broadcast television is the best advertiser out there. You are in everyone’s household. Why don’t you spend some of the money we give you to fix your programming?
And that’s not the only threat to political spending on TV.
Wilner says having fewer competitive races this year than there were in 2010, coupled with those races occurring in smaller, less expensive states like Georgia and Kentucky, is a primary reason why political spending is relatively flat. For example, in 2010 there were 17 competitive Senate races, versus 12 this year; 85 hotly contested congressional races, down to 40 this season; and 23 contentious gubernatorial races, down now to just 14.
The growth of political ads placed by outside groups, particularly those supporting Republican candidates and causes, is another contributor to a relatively lackluster political ad spend season, she said. Nearly twice as many “outside sponsors” are advertising this season than there were in 2010, Wilner said. In turn, spending by candidates themselves is down 7%, she said.
“If you look at the top nine or 10 senate races, the outside groups are going to spend more than the candidates. That’s never happened before,” Todd said. “This is the new world.”
In addition, media strategists say they continue to explore use other platforms — digital media, cable and radio — more aggressively.
Digital is moving up in the ranks, said Guy Harrison, a partner in OnMessage, a research firm. Putting about 15% of their budgets into digital outlets, campaigns now spend more money on new media advertising than on radio, he said. Digital is starting to erode spending on cable, too.
“We clearly use radio, we use cable. It is a multi-screen, multichannel [industry], Perseke said. “But it is, by and large, a TV world.”
Read other stories from the TVB Forward conference here.