By Mark Goldman, ExtendTV
With midterm elections around the corner, reports of campaigns spending record-breaking amounts on political advertising are all over the news. And while TV is definitely at the heart of this massive industry, the rise of online video begs the question — are political advertisers exploiting the digital medium to their best advantage?
Taking a step back to view the broader ecosystem, it’s clear that as people watch more and more video online, advertising dollars are following the eyeballs. According to IAB and BI Intelligence recent estimates, advertisers will tap into its power of sight, sound, and motion by 20% more each year between 2013 and 2016. And in many ways, digital video is an advertiser’s dream, enabling brands to micro-target, track, and measure their precise audience wherever they are — across platforms, screens, and sites.
Similarly, for political campaigns, digital video advertising seems like a no-brainer. By marrying online cookies with voter registration information, political advertisers can target Democrats, Republicans, and Independents — no matter where they’re watching video. Plus they can add geolocation to their targeting criteria to hone in on voters in specific districts — from congressional to electoral.
For Politicos, Digital Lags
Given the exploding number of people watching online video and its political advertising advantages, you might expect campaigns to allocate a substantial portion of their get-out-the-vote dollars to the medium.
But surprisingly, according to a report by Borrell, online political-ad spending is forecast to account for only 3% of political advertising this midterm-election year, rising to only 8% in the 2016 presidential-election year. Contrast that to the digital allocation of local businesses. Last year, one-fourth of their total ad spend was digital, with forecasts predicting that share will grow to nearly half of their total budget in just two years.
The huge digital gap between political and non-political campaigns, leads us to wonder: Why are campaigners reluctant to tap into online advertising?
Opposite Sides of the Fence
The answer lies in perceived logistics. Political advertisers spend the lion’s share of their ad budgets on TV. From our conversations with broadcast affiliates, we’ve learned that campaigners tend to think of digital advertising as separate from their TV spend. This means that planning, arranging, and executing a digital video advertising strategy looks like an additional headache.
And they’re not wrong. Boundaries between the digital and broadcast worlds are usually concrete and insurmountable. In creative agencies, online and TV tend to be distinct departments and there are even stand-alone digital agencies. Most demand-side platforms — allowing buyers of digital video inventory to manage multiple exchanges — operate independently from the broadcast industry.
The perceived inefficiency from this siloed ecosystem is real. There are logistical difficulties — like the additional cost and legwork needed to run and measure two campaigns; targeting issues — because it’s cumbersome to track your audience across wholly different systems; and creative challenges — like maintaining a consistent message across different channels. All of which are crucial for a cohesive political strategy.
The Digital Video and TV Coalition
So, the question is whether there’s a way for political advertisers to unify their buy. Can broadcast and TV be linked together so that political advertisers can leverage the broad reach of television and precise targeting of digital video without sacrificing efficiency?
The answer lies with the local broadcast affiliates. Candidates spend a sizable portion of their media budgets on local broadcast. If those local broadcasters could add digital video advertising to their offerings, political campaigns could reach voters across screens in one unified buy.
Historically, however, TV stations could only run digital video ads on their own websites, severely limiting their online reach. That’s now changing. Local broadcasters are forming partnerships with DSPs enabling the broadcasters to run video ads anywhere online and on mobile. It’s a more comprehensive offering, giving political advertisers both the broad reach of broadcast with the more targeted delivery of digital video.
Plus those broadcasters (through their DSP partnerships) can give political advertisers access to premium video inventory they can’t reach otherwise. As The New York Times recently reported, political advertisers are currently unable to run their video ads on premium sites because the space is sold out. But premium digital video inventory is often still available on the exchanges where DSPs bid.
This is where we’re headed. Digital video and broadcast are forming bipartisan coalitions as we speak. With midterm elections on the horizon and a presidential election year not far off, local affiliates are partnering with local digital video specialists who have access to political cookies from voter files to offer geo-, demo-, and contextual-targeting. Like big brand advertisers, political advertisers can now engage their TV audience and find their swing voters no matter where they’re watching video and move the election needle — across every screen.
Mark Goldman, co-founder and CEO of ExtendTV, has over 25 years of experience in the media and technology industries. In 2003 he joined Al Gore and Joel Hyatt as the founding COO of Current TV, where he played a leading role in the start-up and development of a next generation media company that ultimately sold for approximately $500 million. In 2013 Mark co-founded ExtendTV, which gives local establishments access to multiscreen online audiences.