Political TV Ad Spending to Reach $4.6 Billion for 2020 Election, eMarketer Forecasts

“Despite cord-cutting and declining viewership, TV still offers strong reach…among older Americans who are likely to vote,” analyst Eric Haggstrom says

Election years typically mean big advertising dollars going to television, and 2020 will be no different.

Political advertising spending on television is expected to reach $4.55 billion for the next election cycle, according media research firm eMarketer. That means that TV will account for two-thirds (66%) of all political advertising spending, and political ads will account for 3.2% of all TV advertising.

That would be an 82% jump from the prior general election cycle in 2015/2016, when political TV ad spending was $2.5 billion, as well as a higher share as TV is expected to take money away from print and radio. During the last cycle, TV took up 59.2% of the political ad market.

“Political spending floods the TV airwaves during the last weeks before the election, raising prices and crowding out other advertisers,” said eMarketer forecasting analyst Eric Haggstrom. “Despite cord-cutting and declining viewership, TV still offers strong reach, particularly among older Americans who are likely to vote. The vast majority of this spending goes to local broadcast or cable/satellite providers, as political advertisers focus on states, or even ZIP codes, that can swing an election.”

Some of the massive recent increase in political ad dollars can be attributed to former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire who is self-funding his own bid to win the Democratic nomination. Since entering the race last November, Bloomberg has spent more than $344 million on advertising — including $282 million on TV — according to media tracking firm Advertising Analytics. Ad Analytics gets its data from TV stations, which are required by the FCC to publicly disclose political spending. The other $57 million has gone to Facebook and Google.

Bloomberg, as well as incumbent president Donald Trump, both spent $10 million each to run 60 seconds worth of ads during Super Bowl LIV earlier this month.

Speaking of the two digital behemoths, Facebook and Google already control more than 60% of the entire U.S. digital ad revenue. But when it comes to political ad spending, that amount will jump to more than 77%, says eMarketer. Facebook is expected to take up the lion’s share of that, with 59.4% — which amounts to roughly $796.8 million — with Google accounting for 18.2% ($243.7 million).

“Google has a smaller display business overall than Facebook, and its relatively lower political ad revenues correspond in part to its smaller display footprint,” said eMarketer principal analyst Nicole Perrin. “Facebook is also continuing to allow a range of targeting options for political ads, including custom audiences and lookalike targeting, which Google has disallowed.”

In total, eMarketer predicts that all political advertising spend will reach nearly $7 billion ($6.89 billion). That is less than the $9.8 billion that GroupM, one of the largest media-buying firms in the country, forecast in December; however, GroupM also expects TV political ad spending to reach $4.5 billion. The $6.89 billion would still be significant jump (63.3%) from the prior general election cycle in 2015/2016.

eMarketer includes spending on federal, state and local ads, including PAC ads for candidates and lobbying activities. It also includes ads for legislative or regulatory issues in which there is a specific call to action like voting or calling a Congressional representative.

Tim Baysinger

Tim Baysinger

TV Reporter • tim.baysinger@thewrap.com • Twitter: @tim_bays


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