Cash

In an advertising marketplace made uncertain by the coronavirus, here’s one sure bet: billions of dollars will be spent on political advertising between now and November. Even as the primary calendar remains in flux in many states, broadcasters say there are strong indicators that the campaigns are getting ready to flood markets with advertising.

Katz Media Group Chief Marketing Officer Stacey Schulman said political advertising is developing stronger than the rep firm had anticipated, telling last week’s virtual NAB Show Express conference that current trends are “a lot stronger” than what she saw at this point during the 2016 and 2018 election cycles.

“There is a distinction between what we’re seeing between commercial advertisers and political advertisers. Clearly, we are seeing a large drop-off in the commercial market. There’s a lot of fear and trepidation about what’s appropriate to advertise and how much to advertise. And some of that is starting to come back. We have advertisers like P&G that know they need to be on the air,” Schulman said. “But from the political perspective, we have 35 states that are still holding primaries between now and September so there is a lot of incentive for that advertising to continue.”

Fox Corp. Senior VP Joe Di Scipio said political buying agencies are making inquiries about rates and avails, especially for battleground states. “We’re not even certain who the advertiser is and we don’t even know what the content will be, but we’re getting inquiries about it – that suggests there will be a lot of activity,” he said. And Di Scipio said political action committees have also been laying their autumn plans.

Capitol Broadcasting Company owns radio and television stations in North Carolina, a state viewed by the campaigns as a battleground that could help decide which candidate wins the White House. VP Jennifer Venable said candidates are already reserving time on their stations and she expects that inventory will only grow tighter in the months to come. “We can already see, based on time that’s been reserved, that it’s going to start out a lot stronger and just build from there,” she said.

North Carolina is one state that has already held its primary, and Di Scipio said most political spending “dried up” in March and April as planned votes were delayed. But Schulman thinks the primary season still has a lot of dollars that will help juice spending. “A lot of people assume because the presidential primaries have been decided on the Democratic side that there isn’t as much interest here. But there are quite a lot of down ballot races that are happening in the states and they will be invested in,” she predicted.

As America was going into lockdown in early March, BIA Advisory Services updated its political forecast. The firm revised its local political advertising forecast to $7.1 billion in 2020 from an earlier estimate of $6.6 billion. Its estimated spending for over-the-air local radio is now $337.3 million, an 8% bump from its earlier forecast. And those numbers didn’t include the full impact of billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s short-lived but lucrative campaign for the Democratic nomination.

Schulman points out a lot of the campaigns are well-funded and America is politically divided. Odds are good those two factors will collide with an economy getting back on its feet, she said. “They want to make sure the airtime is going to be available because not only are they going to have the demand for political, but a lot of consumer advertisers are likely to come back on line come fall as well, so there will be a lot of demand for inventory come the fall,” she predicted. “The combination of those things will be positive for the political cycle.”