“It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS”
Ad rates for spots during the political conventions are soaring If Trump stumbles, “that could draw fewer eyes”
With all its acrimony and bare-knuckled rhetoric, the presidential primary season has been a ratings bonanza for cable news. Now networks are preparing to cash in during coverage of the major parties’ nominating conventions in July. CNN is charging advertisers $40,000 to $100,000 for a 30-second spot during the Republican and Democratic conventions, compared with about $5,000 for a normal prime-time commercial, according to a person familiar with the matter. Fox News plans to charge similar rates, according to Ken Goldstein, a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco who analyzes polling and advertising for Bloomberg Politics. The cable networks declined to confirm the numbers. “They will be two of the most interesting conventions in modern political history,” says Sam Feist, CNN’s Washington bureau chief.
CNN will dedicate almost all its 24-hour-a-day programming in late July to the Republican confab in Cleveland, starting on July 18, and the Democrats’ gathering in Philadelphia, which begins on July 25. Fox News will broadcast more hours of the events than it did four years ago.
In the first quarter, Fox News—fueled by politics—led all basic cable channels in prime-time and total-day viewership for the first time in the network’s history. MSNBC’s viewership rose 77 percent in the first quarter from a year ago, while CNN had its mostviewed quarter in seven years.
All will air the three presidential debates set for September and October, and they expect lots of eyeballs. In 2012, 67.2 million viewers tuned in to the first matchup between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the most since the 1980 faceoff between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan drew more than 80 million. Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton could break that record. “That first debate, outside the Super Bowl, may be the highestwatched show we’ve seen in years,” says Jay Wallace, Fox News executive vice president for news and editorial.
Still, overall viewership for cable news throughout the political season may depend on how well Trump, a ratings magnet, fares against Clinton. “Trump is a double-edged sword,” Goldstein says. “On one hand, his participation continues to draw eyes to television.” But if Trump stumbles and “the election becomes uncompetitive, that could draw fewer eyes.”
Dafna Linzer, managing editor of politics for MSNBC, says the network plans to draw viewers by reminding them about the historic nature of Clinton’s candidacy. “One important reason why voters are so engaged and there’s so much at stake is because the parties are on the precipice of choosing candidates like they have never chosen before,” Linzer says.
Cable news is better positioned to capitalize on the elections because it’s always on the air. But broadcast networks have also benefited from spending on political ads. That’s expected to reach $4.4 billion this year, higher than 2012’s record $3.8 billion, says the Campaign Media Analysis Group.
The front-runners are so polarizing, and Trump is making such waves with his campaigning style, that it’s hard to imagine a network not profiting. As Leslie Moonves, the chief executive officer of CBS, said earlier this year: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”