The share of political ad spending long held by broadcast television took a major dive in 2016 as campaigns in Louisiana and across the national turned their attention more to online platforms.
On the production side of political advertising, basic operations like writing, shooting and editing expanded last year as the final product — commercials and campaign spots — grew shorter.
Broadcast television in particular appears to be facing a major challenge, which may prompt a change in selling strategies in the coming years.
Compared to 2012, broadcast television’s overall share of political ad spending nationally slipped 13 points to 45 percent last year, according to the Virginia-based Borrell Associates, which produces advertising reports for the industry.
At the same time, digital spending on social media and video sharing platforms increased nearly eightfold up to a 14 percent market share.
Those same trends were seen in Louisiana as well, says Jared Arsement of Lafayette, who has managed media campaigns for Gov. John Bel Edwards and state Supreme Court Justice Jimmy Genovese.
“TV, radio and newspapers have had to compete for the first time with addressable formats like digital and direct mail,” he says. “Cable has been slow to catch up on addressable in Louisiana, but when it does it will help pick up some of the slack on the TV side for broadcast.”
Rather than buying into programs on broadcast television, addressable buys allow campaigns to use data gathered about voters to reach them on the household level in real time.
In other words, technology now allows campaigns to purchase very specific audiences or households, rather than the audience that happens to be viewing a specific program.
The Borrell report shows how digital platforms online, cable and direct mail in 2016 gained $1.7 billion over 2012 spending levels. Radio, TV and newspapers on the other hand lost nearly $1.3 billion.
Moving forward, local media buyers and consultants expect broadcast television to have to start selling political airtime, whereas in the past it was a guaranteed book of business.
“They’re going to have to be more accommodating, and their pricing will have to be competitive,” continues Arsement. “I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”
The Political Firm’s Jason Hebert of Baton Rouge, who manages media for Majority Whip Steve Scalise and U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, says the shift to targeted media has changed the way his company operates.
While you can get away with a single shoot for a broadcast commercial, shooting for specific digital audiences — from Republican fishermen to soccer moms and everything in between — requires several scripts.
“You have to get it all,” says Hebert. “The front-end production has really increased, but it’s worth it. The return on the dollar for these targeted expenditures is worth it.”
With social media and web campaigns requiring video that’s shorter than what typically appears on TV, the length of the spots being produced is changing as well.
“Over the course of the last cycle we produced more 15-second spots than 30-second spots,” Hebert adds.
But don’t write any tombstones yet. Through it all broadcast TV still maintained its title as overall champion, snaring $4.4 billion in 2016, or three times more than any other competing medium, according to the Borrell report, which likewise offered this conclusion: “(T)he real story wasn’t what happened as much as what changed.”