“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”

Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia) - - CONTENTS - Gerry Smith

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.”

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