Candidates for president are lining up in both major parties with the Republicans having as many as 20 entries while the Democrats have three declared to date. This has caused much chatter in the media and joy in the management offices of television stations in early primary states and those dozen or so states in November, 2016 that will be known as “battlegrounds.” Also, and very importantly, online and social media political advertising will likely soar. With so many apparently well funded candidates plus record breaking Political Action Committee (PAC) spending, it may be the year for many of us in battleground states to lean heavily on Netflix, HBO, and PBS to avoid the nonstop political messages.
Consistently, projections seem to indicate that what will really zing in 2016 is digital media spending. Rolling up all campaigns in 2012, digital snagged about $200 million from all campaigns. In 2016, the working estimate that I hear the most is for digital to flirt with $1 billion which is an eye-popping five fold increase over the previous presidential year. Areas talked about the most are online video and social media which may be hard to track so the tally might understate the action. Watch for a dramatic increase over the mid-year elections of 2014 in Facebook postings, You Tube Videos that have gone viral, and targeted e-mails and many more Twitter tweets. Social media is very inexpensive and can be done on the fly. It is perfect for the pace of the world of 2016.
While all the action is soaring in digital, conventional TV and cable will also likely have great years and will still dwarf digital spending. Local TV stations are currently struggling in a very lackluster year across the country but their bean-counters at headquarters are licking their chops when forecasting for 2016. Here are some off the record comments from some broadcasters I know regarding next year’s TV action. Their candor is humbling:
--“Thank God for the Roberts court. They have guaranteed us nice billing through the next two political cycles. The Citizens United decision struck me as insane but it sure gives my station a big helping hand.” (To oversimplify, in Citizens United, the court, in essence, removed limits on individual, corporate and union political spending)
--“It is curious. People still line up to spend money with us and we should do great with the presidential primaries in our state and get some nice money in the general election with a reasonably competitive US Senate race and a real battleground in the presidential sweepstakes. But, honestly, the cable guys can offer so more precision than we can to a candidate. They can run different messages on various channels and really target in both demographically with channel selection and geographically with zoned buys. Yet, political dollars will easily bail out my network affiliate station next year. Will they wise up and use more cable and ramp up digital? Who cares? By the time they do, I will be retired!”
--“About 30 years ago, I was a strong and aggressive young salesman. When I was assigned the political sales beat one year, I asked for a meeting with my sales manager and general manager. In the session, I asked if I were in trouble. They said of course not. Well, politicals were a dumping ground in one sense in those days. You had to give the lowest possible rate and you also bumped lots of long standing advertisers in strong programming. They assured me that my future was safe. Today, everyone brags about political spending. It is amazing how things have changed. The awful truth is that the business is weak in most markets and political bucks are a shot of adrenaline that we desperately need for our billing. Now, as a GM, no one is upset if they are assigned political spending.”
Some people, in a minority, were not so bullish on network affiliate prospects for political billing:
--“Karl Rove has to be angry with losing the last two presidential races. This time, they will not get outsmarted and ultimately out-advertised as they were in 2008 and 2012. The GOP has to be grooming pollsters and media people who will be state of the art next year in terms of forecasting and media execution. And, my bet is they will use a lot less over the air TV than people may think. They have tons of money but they will allocate it very well.”
--“This forecasted spot TV bonanza may be a mirage. Iowa will do great for their caucus and WMUR in New Hampshire will break records. After the GOP field thins, it will change probably after the South Carolina primary. Watch for social media to grab some serious money.”
--A long time media researcher says: “Let’s say it is Clinton vs. Bush. They both have baggage and large numbers of people who will not vote for them simply due to their names. So, TV is not going to persuade people as much as you might think. It may help get the vote out on November 8, 2016 but I do not see it as crucial or as big as others do. The “ground game” of getting the vote out will be the key".
So, digital spending for politicians will grow exponentially next year. With the record amounts being spent, the rising tide will raise both digital and television be it over the air or cable. Nothing, as I like to say, lasts forever. So, watch for on line to overtake broadcast in the years to come (2024?) in political campaigns. At that point, broadcast TV will be in a world of hurt without their huge biannual bailout.
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