Long Primary Season Could Depress 2016 TV Ad Spending

by Patrick O'Connor, The Wall Street Journal  

In an odd twist, a longer Republican primary could actually limit the overall amount of money spent on television ads in the 2016 presidential race, according to a new analysis.

Yes, the costs to compete in the Republican primary may skyrocket if the fight stretches toward late spring, but that’s not necessarily a good thing for overall spending for the 2016 cycle, says Elizabeth Wilner, who oversees Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, the predominant media-tracking service for campaigns and other political groups.

A long primary will divert money from a sustained general-election media campaign in the 10 or so most important swing states, she says. Instead, candidates and outside groups will be forced to buy targeted bursts of advertising in whatever states are holding the next nominating contest in the GOP primaries, Ms. Wilner writes in the Cook Political Report. That could be good news for outside groups willing to hold their fire for a late-starting general-election campaign, but bad news for individual broadcasters and cable operators.

Further, ad rates tend to shrink in the summer, so a Democrat-vs.-Republican main event that begins in April is much more expensive than one that starts in June, for example. That means station owners and cable operators can charge candidates and their outside allies more for airtime the earlier the race begins, Ms. Wilner points out.

The cost of winning the Republican nomination is likely to be much steeper in 2016 than it was in 2012. But overall spending on presidential ads over the course of the entire race may be as much as $100 million lower than they would be with an early general-election start, estimates another market tracker, Michael O’Brien, Scripps vice president. Or by even more, argues Ms. Wilner.

Of course, even with this uncertainty hanging over the market, the Kantar team still predicts total ad spending in the race — the first open presidential race since the Supreme Court made it easier for outside groups to collect and spend unlimited sums — to jump by $500 million or more, particularly if billionaire Democrats start writing bigger checks to affiliated outside groups to help elect former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Kantar expects overall political ad spending to be $4.4 billion in the current election cycle, with the money spent on House and Senate races largely flat. That is still up significantly from the $3.8 billion spent in 2012. And the 2016 total may prove much higher if the GOP primary ends earlier than expected.

“Trying to project total 2016 TV ad spend before the end of the Republican presidential primary may just be a fool’s errand,” Ms. Wilner writes.

View the original article from The Wall Street Journal