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Broadcast TV’s Dominance in Political Ads Will Persist, Gray TV’s LaPlatney Contends

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Gray Television’s total non-political (core) ad revenue last month was about $82 million; during the same month, political ads generated $175 in advertising, said Pat LaPlatney, president & co-CEO of Gray Television Inc. Overall, at Gray TV stations in 95 markets—even through a longer-than-ever political process which began in early 2019—53% of total political revenue came between Oct. 1 and Nov. 3 (Election Day), LaPlatney explained during the monthly webcast of the Media Institute, a Washington think tank, on Monday (Nov. 23).

His summary confirmed earlier reports on the extraordinary reliance on broadcast political advertising this year, even with the impact of early voting in many states.

“Gray Television has never seen spending start earlier than we did for the 2020 cycle,” he added, citing ad buys in Maine for Senator Susan Collins’ reelection effort “a full year before the general election.” He also pointed to the first order (“albeit a small one”) from Democratic primary hopeful Tom Steyer in February 2019.

In remarks that large shared research data from Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG), which monitors political advertising, LaPlatney summarized the trends of the political arena.

He also confirmed that “sports events were a heavy focus, with many [political] advertisers triple spotting during college and NFL football games.”  He noted that many campaign advertisers ran two spots within a half-hour local newscast and many waived the separation requirements to keep their commercials from being run adjacent to rivals’ political messages.

He pointed out that “the Bloomberg Effect” shattered records and created “unprecedented spending levels” during a six- or seven-week period, reaching levels that most political advertisers barely hit during the entire cycle.

From this year’s experience, LaPlatney said he believes broadcast TV will continue to play a major role in campaign advertising—even with the growing presence of digital platforms.  He also cited the continuing TV commercials in the pending Georgia races for U.S. Senate seats. 

“Campaigns turned much more to broadcast television,” he said.  ““You’ll see the pie continue to grow. Digital will grow; the broadcast share will be similar to where it ended up this cycle—at about 50%” in the next presidential election year.

“These records will be broken in 2024,” he predicted, but he admitted, “It's hard for me to put that into context.”   

In response to questions about the role of NextGen TV (also known as ATSC 3.0), LaPlatney said he expects it to have “a significant effect,” citing the IP-based format for its ability to provide better targeting and click-to-donate options.

“There will be markets where ATSC 3.0 will matter,” he said—and it will increase during the next four year.

LaPlatney said that Gray TV is “fully committed” to the 3.0 rollout, but because many of its stations are in smaller markets, it may be a while before the service debuts throughout its footprint. He said that its stations in Charlotte, N.C., and Cleveland will launch NextGen TV transmissions in 2021 and he’s looking forward to “the competitive advantages we never had before.”