Polarization, Not Presidential, Drives Political Revenue In ’24

Campaigns and PACs are also spending on down-ballot races and issues, say executives from NBCUniversal Local, E.W. Scripps, Sage Media Planning and WideOrbit during a TVNewsCheck webinar last week. Pictured (clockwise from top left): moderator Paige Albiniak, TVNewsCheck; Bobby Mushroe, Sage Media Planning; Will Hildebrandt, NBCU Local & Telemundo; Samantha Osborne, E.W. Scripps; and Sean Harrington, WideOrbit. Watch the full video here.

In a Presidential election year, all eyes tend to be on the leading candidates. Love ’em or hate ’em, two figures are looming large over this year’s race: President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. While Biden and Trump are pulling all the focus, presidential campaigns aren’t driving most spending on TV stations this election year. Instead, down-ballot Senate, House, gubernatorial and other campaigns, and issues such as immigration and abortion are what will be bringing in the bucks, said panelists at a TVNewsCheck webinar last Tuesday titled “Optimizing Political Revenue in a Multiplatform World.”

Overall spending on political advertising in the 2024 campaign cycle is expected to increase 30% from 2020, exceeding $12 billion, according to research firm Insider Intelligence. Approximately 72% of that money — nearly $9 billion — will go to traditional media and specifically to television.

“We still tend to see a lot of broadcast spending,” said Bobby Mushroe, partner, Sage Media Planning. “There really is no other medium that can move numbers with the kind of speed that you need for a political campaign. So, broadcast is still getting the lion’s share of the spending except in some of these very expensive markets with tiny districts.”

TV stations won’t start seeing most of that financial windfall until the third quarter of this year, panelists said. Had the Republican presidential primary been more contested, spending would have begun earlier, but by Super Tuesday, only former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley remained in the Republican primary against Trump, and by Wednesday, she had dropped out, leaving Trump the last candidate standing.

“Presidential spending has been lackluster so far this year, definitely not where we expected it to be,” said Will Hildebrandt, VP political, NBCUniversal Local & Telemundo. “But [Trump and Biden] historically have some of the highest negatives when it comes to polling. They’re going to have to spend to combat that. I think we’re going to see a healthy amount of presidential spending, but not yet.”

Samantha Osborne, Scripps VP of political, advocacy and automation, said: “I can say we are above where we anticipated to be in Q1, but not by much because the way we forecasted was by looking at historical data and taking the lack of billionaires spending into account.


“Just knowing that this is the third time that Trump has run and what his spending patterns are — he doesn’t need to spend and what he does spend is not on advertising.”

What continues to drive political spending higher and higher is the polarization that’s dividing voters, panelists said.

“The sliver of folks that are persuadable seems to be getting smaller and smaller, and [reaching them] becomes more expensive,” Hildebrandt said. “There are also quite a number of PACs (political action committees) and Super PACs that come in to back certain candidates, so if [those candidates] are lacking in fundraising, they can still be pushed over the finish line.”

Another reason spending keeps climbing to new heights every election cycle is because of the Supreme Court’s lifting of restrictions around independent spending on elections in the 2010 Citizens United decision.

“Ever since Citizens United, there’s just been more and more deregulation of the way that money can play in politics. There’s just a lot more money in the system and a lot more incentive for wealthy individuals to play in the system,” Mushroe said.

And even though presidential campaigns have national impact, their campaigns only spend in swing states and, more and more, swing markets or counties. This year, those states are Arizona, Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina. While Montana will assuredly go for Trump in the presidential, the Western state is host to a hot Senate race that could determine which party will control the Senate in 2025.

Similarly, California should easily go to Biden, but it will see a contentious Senate race between Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and former Major League Baseball player Steve Garvey. Several Republicans in Ohio are vying to take on incumbent Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown this fall. And in Wisconsin, Republican and real-estate mogul Eric Hovde will face incumbent Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin. Meanwhile, there are many issues and ballot measures that are expected to drive spending across the country.

“One of the X factors that we don’t know enough about yet are the ballot measures,” Mushroe said. “There’s been an increase in ballot-measure spending with each of the last few cycles and there are a ton of ballot measures that are still going through the signature phase. They could cause a ton of spending in some unexpected states.”

Another X factor is on which platforms campaigns will decide to spend their money. They still tend to want most of their spots on local linear TV, but station groups are offering more products, including targeted CTV offerings, that could appeal to politicians. In addition, campaigns place ads on local cable, radio and streaming platforms.

“It’s a fragmented media environment, so everything has to be done with layers and everything has to be as targeted as possible,” Mushroe said. “One of the big things that we really push in our broadcast spending is how targetable broadcasts can be, which I think is a misconception that is used to our disadvantage sometimes.”

While local broadcast is the first stop for many campaigns, buying and placing ads on local TV can be a complicated proposition, just because there’s no one-stop shop that allows ads to be purchased across multiple broadcast groups and multiple markets.

Ad tech platform provider WideOrbit hopes to make that process easier for both buyers and sellers with its new WO Fusion product, which uses Comscore data to provide political and demographic profiles as well as show how many impressions a campaign delivered by political affiliation and voter turnout, said Sean Harrington, product manager, WideOrbit.

“This report allows the seller to further target their campaigns with greater precision,” Harrington said. “And this works in a single market or larger geographies.”

Looking ahead, Wide Orbit plans to add a new feature to its web traffic application that will validate lowest-unit rates on order entry and on long finalizations to ensure rate compliance for all clients.

On the sell side, broadcasters are always looking for more ways to streamline and automate the process.

“Our clients are consistently requesting converged media tools, which we have built,” Harrington said. “Our clients aren’t selling a single offering. They have portfolio offerings that cross all platforms. So, our customers’ assets and the solutions that we develop are focused on being able to create a single converged plan with combined linear and digital metrics and an easy and efficient way to convert those plans into orders through fulfillment systems by limiting swivel- chair operations.”

“Technology has always been the hindrance we have in terms of speed and efficiency,” Osbourne said. “We still email spreadsheets way too much. It needs to be easier to get make-good approvals, to send rates, to send buys digitally, and so forth.”
For Mushroe, working with dedicated political specialists on the sell side is imperative because political buys are all about getting spots on the air quickly and in specific programs, like local news and news adjacencies.

“The biggest and most important thing to most political media buyers is speed and ease of process — being responsive and efficient,” he said. “It’s also important to have sales representatives who are specialists in political that understand the differences between political and retail buying. The goals that a political advertiser has tend to not be immediately apparent to someone who comes from a retail background. Having people who are dedicated and who actually understand politics is crucial.”

Watch the video of this webinar here.

Comments (3)

Leave a Reply

AIMTV says:

March 11, 2024 at 1:16 pm

It’s grotesque that the industry I’ve been a part of for 30+ years is now so dependent on our country’s polarization and division. There’s zero to be proud of here.

[email protected] says:

March 11, 2024 at 11:50 pm

All political ads are lies, slander, smearing, & defaming which isn’t right, I hate living in a swing state of Michigan.

Kathy Haley says:

March 12, 2024 at 11:05 am

Is it advertising that’s driving polarization? Or is the polarization generating advertising revenue? I’d suggest gerrymandering plays a far bigger role in driving polarization than anything else. It’s result is uncompetitive local and regional elections and elected officials with no need to respond to the wishes of their voters.