As the presidential primary season begins, so does a previously unthinkable notion: This year could spell the end of television as the dominant media for political campaigns.
The paradox of 2016, as Rick Hampson of USA TODAY notes, is this: Despite unparalleled political spending on TV ads, there is equally unprecedented doubt over whether they have much impact.
The concerns revolve around the surprising campaign of Donald Trump, who remains the Republican front-runner despite spending little money on advertising. In stark contrast is Jeb Bush, who — with the backing of a $100 million super PAC — has yet to dig his polling numbers out of the single digits.
Although Hampson says the death of TV may be just a bit exaggerated, broadcast advertising in 2015 seemed to be inverse to political success, at least as measured by polls.
A real threat to TV’s dominance comes from digital advertising, which is expected to pass $1 billion for the first time in the 2016 election cycle, according to a report by consulting firm Borrell Associates.
If this trend holds, Borrell forecasts that by 2020, spending on digital will come within 30 percent of broadcast TV. Despite that ominous prediction, broadcast TV still offers a few advantages, keeping it (for now) the leading media platform in politics.
Some observers argue that poor polling numbers of candidates like Bush — a steadfast advertiser — should be blamed on the candidates themselves, not the advertising medium.
But others feel TV may be heading for a cliff. PACs, which initially came into being for funding TV ad campaigns, are increasingly turning to nonbroadcast and digital campaigning,
PACs, which initially came into existence to fund TV ad campaigns, are increasingly turning to both nonbroadcast channels and digital campaigning.
After 2016, Borrell predicts that broadcast TV’s drop from its political advertising perch will be no less than “breathtaking.”
And by 2020, they say TV could lose as much as 14 share points to digital.
Nevertheless, for the time being, TV will stay on top. No campaign will risk being the first to abandon television entirely, despite its expense and questionable return on investment.