Stations Gearing Up For ‘Political Storm’ of Spending in 2016

Seeing green, broadcast companies and stations in purple and early-voting states are adding resources, coverage

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There are all kinds of unknowns a year away from the 2016 presidential election, but one thing is for sure: A lot of money will be spent on TV advertising.

Kantar projects the TV ad spend for the election will be $4.4 billion, with an estimated $500 million of that a direct result of Citizens United, this being the first open presidential race since the landmark Supreme Court ruling.

“Television continues to be the No. 1 medium in the local market [for political advertising],” said Jack Myers, chairman of MyersBizNet.

Stations have been planning ahead. Back in May, Media General announced the opening of a Washington, D.C. bureau; in September, the company added a team of four journalists to the bureau to provide news, analysis and reports to the Media General stations throughout the nation. Last month, Scripps inked an exclusive pact with Tampa Bay Times fact-checking project PolitiFact for resources to strengthen its stations’ election and political coverage.

On Nov. 8, exactly one year before the election, NBCUniversal and co-owned Spanish-language network Telemundo launched “Noticias Telemundo,” a news app that delivers real-time election results in Spanish on smartphones and tablets. Content will come from Telemundo’s Un Nuevo Día, Al Rojo Vivo and Noticiero Telemundo.

During its third-quarter earnings call, Nexstar Broadcasting Group revealed it was already seeing promising Q4 political revenue and expected that to surge into 2016. “There’s nothing in the existing environment or results we’ve seen to date to cause us to be anything except more than optimistic about that,” said Tom Carter, executive VP and chief financial officer.

The political opportunities played a part in Gray Television’s acquisition of Schurz Communications’ stations. The portfolio includes stations in swing states Missouri (Springfield) and Virginia (Roanoke-Lynchburg). In fact, much of Gray’s market presence is strategically located in purple Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states rather than historically blue New England and Pacific Coast.

“If you’re in a [swing] state next year, you can be in great shape,” said Larry Patrick, founder and managing partner, Patrick Communications. “If you’re in North Dakota, no offense, you’re not a swing state.”

In Pennsylvania, Joe Lewin, WHTM Harrisburg general manager and VP, anticipates 2016 will be a tremendous political year for the state, which could be “more in play than the past couple of presidential races.”