Cable TV Sees 2.8M Political Spots Since January

Late Night Fringe Cable Sees Big Jump from Presidential Hopefuls

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If the 2016 presidential primary season is any indication, the data-driven cable TV buying trend among political advertisers is not going away.

The massive shifts in the dayparts and number of networks purchased by political campaigns and groups since the 2012 election make it clear. From January through June 5, political advertisers booked 2.8 million cable TV spots, up from 1.8 million in that period in 2012, according to National Cable Communications, which serves as a sales and marketing firm for the cable, telco and satellite TV industries.

Revenue from cable buys is up 40% so far this election cycle compared to 2012, keeping spending on political cable television ads on pace to hit $850 million.

But prime-time cable buys were down from 152,019 in 2012 to 136,884.

The takeaway? Traditional gut-driven TV buying is going away. Money spent to run political ads during primetime news programming, the historically common approach to reaching likely voters, is moving to daytime and fringe daypart buys across a more expansive array of channels. In short, political advertisers, many influenced by the data-centric TV-buying approach championed by the Obama 2012 campaign, are making TV planning and purchase decisions based on data indicating which shows coveted voter segments are watching.

"Our orders are getting deeper," said Tim Kay, director of political strategy at National Cable Communications, noting that orders tend to include more networks than in the past. NCC is owned by Comcast, Cox and Time Warner, and has partnerships with several political data and analytics firms that help clients reach voter segments based on the shows they tend to view.

Between January and early June of this year, some of the most staggering evidence came in late-night fringe cable buys. In 2012 political advertisers bought just 1,812 of those slots according to NCC; they bought more than 17-times that amount or 31,091 this time around. Daytime and early fringe slots were way up, too. Daytime buys among campaigns and their PACs more than doubled from 319,267 units to 756,913, while early fringe leapt from 487,560 to 732,546.

In a continuation of what NCC data reported in February by Ad Age before the South Carolina primary showed, political advertisers increased the number of cable networks they bought compared to 2012 from 80 to 111 cable networks this primary season.

The Bernie Sanders campaign booked the largest portion of cable spots -- 27% or 320,252 -- of all the presidential hopefuls this primary season. Hillary Clinton's campaign ran 22% of the political cable ads, or 260,694 cable spots, NCC data shows.

The Democratic rivals both purchased on at least ten networks including Syfy, Food, Spike, Tru and Animal Planet, so they "were utilizing a lot of different networks," said Mr. Kay.

Cable ad dollars didn't reflect the high number of Republican presidential contenders, as expected by some. The Ted Cruz campaign booked around 8% of presidential primary cable ads, or 90,028. Marco Rubio's campaign booked around 6% or 67,204 cable spots.

Notably, the early anticipated GOP favorite Jeb Bush booked just 0.32% of cable ads or 3,751. His Right to Rise PAC booked 4% of cable spots from political advertisers, or just under 50,000 spots. Donald Trump's campaign booked 6% or 70,992 cable spots. The Marco Rubio camp booked around the same number -- 6% or 67,204 cable spots.

Clinton campaign backer Priorities USA purchased 1.35% of cable spots or 15,728.

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