How Big Will Political Be For Spot In 2016?

Research firms Kantar/CMAG and Borrell have come up with vastly different forecasts for political spot spending next year — $3.3 billion and $4.7 billion, respectively. But whatever the number, the important thing is not to allow cable and digital to nibble away at it.

Broadcasters with an interest in political advertising — that is, all broadcasters — may have felt slightly befuddled by the Wall Street Journal story on the topic Monday.

The story said that candidates and outside groups trying to affect the elections may spend $4.4 billion on TV overall, up about 16% from 2012, the last presidential year.

But the bar chart accompanying the story pegged the spending at around $5.8 billion.

That’s quite a difference. So, of course, the research department here at TVNewsCheck sprung into action to see if it could clarify matters.

After all, political has emerged as the second most important ad category for TV stations, behind auto. We need hard facts.

First of all, the numbers come from two different sources — the $4.4 billion from CMAG and the $5.8 billion from Borrell Associates.


The firms employ different methodologies and Borrell’s estimates and forecasts of advertising spending tend to be considerably higher across the board.

The other problem is that the composition of the two figures are different.

CMAG’s $4.4 billion includes broadcast spot ($3.3 billion), local cable ($800 million) and broadcast and cable network combined ($300 million).

Borrell’s $5.8 billion comprises broadcast spot ($4.7 billion),  broadcast network ($1 billion) and broadcast syndication ($100 million and change).

Comparing the two figures really doesn’t make sense.

So, I contacted Kip Cassino at Borrell and got some more numbers so that I could compare GMAG and Borrell — apples to apples.

Take a look at this chart:

  CMAG Borrell
Broadcast Spot $3.3 Billion $4.7 Billion
Local Cable $800 Million $400 Million
Network (Broadcast & Cable) $300 Million $1.8 Billion
Broadcast Syndication  $0 $100 Million
TOTAL  $4.4 Billion $7 Billion

We still have a big gap between what the two firms are saying, but at least we can see it more clearly now.

Borrell’s forecast of what all of TV will garner next year is nearly two thirds greater than GMAG’s — $7 billion vs. $4.4 billion.

Like I said, that is due to the firms’ different methodologies, which I don’t have the time, space or inclination to get into today.

I also spoke to Elizabeth Wilner, the political guru at CMAG. Suffice it to say, Wilner and Cassino are each confident that their numbers better reflect reality.

From my discussion with broadcasters, they clearly put more weight on the CMAG figures, since they spring from (and fit with) the regular quarterly reports on ad spending from CMAG parent Kantar Media. Broadcasters and other TV segments have grown to rely upon those reports.

The broadcasters also say the CMAG numbers better jibe with what they know from their own political dealings and sales records.

More is usually better, but not in this case. Broadcasters tell me the higher Borrell figures create unrealistic expectations among broadcast owners, investors and industry analysts. At all levels, broadcasters hate to be put in a position where they are seen as not making their numbers.

But the broadcasters also see value in the Borrell research. Unlike CMAG, which focuses solely on TV, Borrell looks at all media. So, through Borrell, they can see how they are faring against other media. They trust the share and growth percentages, if not the absolute numbers.

As part of its comprehensive view of political, Borrell tabulates digital spending in its various manifestations — paid search, display, email, streaming media, video, social media and mobile. (According to Cassino, Borrell appreciates the overlap between mobile and social media and adjusts its figures accordingly.)

Last month, Borrell grabbed some headlines (here’s the one on our companion website NetNewsCheck) by announcing that digital political spending would blow by the $1 billion mark in 2016 and wind up at $1.1 billion, 9.5% of the $11.4 billion it believes will be spent on all media in 2016. The $1.1 billion also represents a nearly six-fold increase over 2012.

Perhaps in part because it is the only outfit that measures digital spending, broadcasters and other experts are thinking that the Borrell digital number feels about right.

If so, it means that since 2012 digital political has grown to be about one-quarter of the size of the total TV spend and one-third of the spend on broadcast spot.

For stations, the one alarming number is all of this is 75%. That’s spot TV’s share of CMAG’s all-TV projection of $4.4 billion in political TV spending in 2016.

Now, certainly, that is a big number, but it is down sharply from 84% in 2012. While TV spending on the whole will grow 16% in 2016, spot will grow a paltry 3% from $3.2 billion to $3.3 billion.

The ducks — local cable, networks and digital — are beginning to nibble away at spot.

Which makes me think it was wise for the TVB to have hired a PR firm in Washington, The Herald Group, to make the case that TV in general and spot in particular is the best bet for political dollars.

I suspect that political campaigning, just like tooth paste marketing, is as much an art as a science and that political agencies are buying on hunches and their gut as much as they are on Big Data.

In such an environment, broadcasters cannot afford to let others, particularly the digital blowhards, tell the story of which media work and which don’t.

Last month, Google and Target Victory, a digital GOP agency, released a self-serving study that found that 75% of the money spent by congressional candidates in 2014 on broadcast TV was wasted.

All the numbers and percentages in this column are estimates — informed guesses at what’s going to happen next year. Much can be done to influence the spending — and the size of spot’s share — before it actually happens.

Harry A. Jessell is editor of TVNewsCheck. He can be contacted at 973-701-1067 or [email protected]. You can read earlier columns here.

Comments (1)

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Greg Johnson says:

September 24, 2015 at 6:13 pm

Whether it is this election or the next, programmatic TV buying will change dollar volume/unit rates and programmatic digital with will play a much bigger role next year, particularly on the CRM side with that powerful CRM.