TV station owners, and their investors, couldn’t wait for the 2016 election campaign to kick off. This would be “the first ever without an incumbent [presidential candidate] or limits on campaign funding,” Moody’s Investors Service said in April. It projected that $3.4 billion could go to stations, helping to lift their ad revenues by as much as 18%.
But the forecast looks less certain after some big groups reported lower-than-expected political sales in Q2, while GOP candidate Donald Trump has yet to show that he will spend heavily on local TV.
E.W. Scripps sounded an alarm on Friday. The company warned with its weaker-than-expected Q2 earnings report that political sales were part of the problem — and Scripps might fall short of its forecast to see $150 million in election-related spending this year.
That number is now “probably at the high end of our range,” CFO Tim Wesolowski told analysts, adding that “there could be about 10% of risk to that number.”
Broadcast Operations chief Brian Lawlor noted that in several states “the distance between the two candidates has moved to double digits. And as you know, typically 5%, 6% is kind of the gap you want to stay within for a race to maintain being competitive, and we see some of that drifting.”
Then, on Monday, Media General reported Q2 revenues that were 11% lower than Wall Street expected. Political sales were “the real driver of the top-line miss,” Wells Fargo Securities’ Marci Ryvicker says.
On top of that, an Associated Press says today that Donald Trump plans to spend nothing to advertise on Rio Olympics broadcasts, while Hillary Clinton will spend $13.6 million. That contrasts with 2012 when President Obama and Mitt Romney’s campaigns each spent about $18 million on the games in London.
Still, several station owners say they’re confident the political cash will come.
Nexstar Broadcasting told analysts today that it should ”meet and potentially exceed” its forecast to see $100 million. It noted, among other things, that the Trump campaign has asked for ad time in 17 states.
Tegna CEO Gracia Martore told analysts a few weeks ago that the Q2 numbers were unusually soft because primaries in both parties were “dramatic and drawn out,” which put spending on hold for the general election campaign. “As a result, spending from presidential candidates is just now beginning to come in.”
She adds that she’s “confident that spending will continue to ramp up in the back half of the year, typically where about 80% to 85% of all the political dollars we get occur especially during the five weeks or so between Labor Day and Election Day.”
Sinclair COO David Amy cited “the late fundraising by the Trump campaign” as a factor in the early stage of the campaign — adding that his company still expects “a record year in political dollars by beating 2012’s $255 million.”
Tribune Media CEO Peter Liguori this morning also assured analysts not to worry about his company’s ability to hit its $200 million target.
Up through July 31 “our gross political advertising including future commitments totals $73 million,” he says. “That’s roughly 38% more than the $53 million we had through July 2012. Pacing has picked up as well. In fact, our pacing for political between August 1 and the November election is double what we saw in the same time period in 2012.”
He expects “heavy spending” in battleground states including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, North Carolina, Virginia and Colorado.
And the company sees about two-thirds of its political ad dollars coming from local races and political action committees.
“Donald Trump’s choice of [Indiana’s] Mike Pence as a running mate has created a very competitive race to replace him as the state’s governor,” Liguori says. The Senate race in the state also “just got much tighter” after Democratic nominee Baron Hill withdrew from the race, clearing the way for former senator and governor Evan Bayh to challenge Republican Rep. Todd Young.
Liguori adds that a check with Tribune’s Philadelphia station WPHL persuaded him that PAC money is starting to flow. The station saw $40,000 from PACs in 2012. This year it already has commitments for $1.6 million.