Broadcast TV investors are finally resigning themselves to the likelihood that stations won’t see the bonanza they’d expected this year from political ads — mostly due to lower than anticipated outlays by Donald Trump.
Sinclair Broadcasting shares fell 9.4% yesterday after it lowered its guidance for political spending and earnings. Gray Television also fell 9.4% after it withdrew its guidance for political spending this quarter, saying that “the campaign’s future spending is currently impossible to predict.”
Thar prompted Wells Fargo Securities’ Marci Ryvicker this morning to drop her forecast for overall political ad spending on broadcast TV this election cycle to $2.65 billion from $3.3 billion. Put differently, she now believes the numbers could be down 5% from 2012 instead of up 18%.
This is an unusual setback due to Trump’s unwillingness to spend, not a sign that TV stations are losing their ability to profit handsomely from politics, she adds.
“The concern all along has been Trump,” Ryvicker says. “We have been talking about the Trump Effect for quite a while; and while there is still hope, the placement of Trump dollars is impossible to predict. One thing to keep in mind is that presidential candidate money tends to comprise 30% of total political dollars in a Presidential year–split evenly (more or less) between Republicans and Democrats. So we’re talking about 15% (or 1/6th) of total dollars at risk. We also clarify that Trump HAS been spending, but not enough for a lot of our companies.”
She also sees shifts in where the outlays could go: Indiana, New York, Missouri, and Virginia “are no longer contentious on the Presidential side,” Ryvicker says, while Arizona, Ohio, Colorado, Wisconsin and possibly Indiana “are no longer contentious on the Senate side.”
RBC Capital Markets’ Leo Kulp is more confident that the dollars will come in, noting that Trump raised $170 million in July and August.
“While this is below the [Mitt] Romney campaign levels in ’12, we believe expectations were that Trump would not match Romney’s results,” he says this morning. And after switching its ad agency it “sounds as if the campaign has more recently been sending out avail requests, which would suggest that spending will accelerate. Bottom line, we expect that since the money has been raised and the national polls are tightening, the Trump campaign will spend on advertising.”
Kulp adds that “Super PAC fund-raising to date is up 20% versus all of 2012. although billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch — a major force for GOP candidates — recently decided to shift resources from TV to get-out-the-vote efforts in Ohio and Florida,
The analyst calls this “an incremental negative.”
And CBS’ ever optimistic chief Les Moonves is still upbeat. “We have no revenue warnings here,” he told an investor gathering yesterday. “There probably is not as much at the top of the ticket because Mr. Trump doesn’t appear to be spending as much as people may have thought. But down below, the issue spending is tremendous.”