Connected TV’s Growing But Unclear Role in Political Advertising

Linear still dominates political ad buys despite the spike in CTV audiences driven by the pandemic

Ad tracking firms say political spend on CTV isn't publicly available yet. Getty Images

Political advertisers are embracing connected TV ahead of the November election more than they did during previous election cycles, but the category still represents a fraction of the overall media spending pie—and exact spend levels in CTV are hard to calculate.

Total political ad spend for the 2020 election cycle is projected to reach $6.9 billion, according to research firm eMarketer, with two-thirds of that going to linear TV, mostly in local broadcasts and to cable or satellite providers.

Most digital political ad dollars are going to Google and Facebook. The duopoly’s share of digital political ad revenue for the 2020 election cycles is 77.6%, according to eMarketer.

The rest of that money is up for grabs, but it’s hard to tell if it’s being spent in CTV. Advertising Analytics said the medium is a black box, since spend information isn’t publicly available.

That lack of clarity is somewhat of a demand issue: Kantar Media doesn’t track CTV spend either, partly because agencies aren’t demanding that kind of data yet. However, CTV is becoming part of nearly every buy from major political ad agencies, said Steve Passwaiter, vp and gm of CMAG, the political practice at Kantar.

It’s also a political issue: Specific CTV data isn’t available because over-the-top media companies aren’t required to disclose political buys to the Federal Communications Commission, unlike broadcasters and cable operators.

If the FCC makes that a requirement for OTT, we’ll have our answers.

–Steve Passwaiter, vp and gm, CMAG

“If the FCC makes that a requirement for OTT, we’ll have our answers,” Passwaiter said.

Still, media owners and ad-tech companies are seeing a rise in CTV spend compared to previous election cycles of 2016 and 2018. They see the medium offering advertisers the ability to reach cord cutters and use granular data to target specific audiences, while delivering a message in a premium environment: the TV screen.

Frost Prioleau, CEO of demand-side platform Simplifi, said 10% of the company’s CTV business this month has come from political ads, up from the norm of between 1%-2%. He said CTV accounted for “basically zero” percent of spend through its platform during 2016 and 2018 cycles, but the rise of CTV viewing over the past four years has meant there are now more people to reach and more inventory available to purchase.

While it was already growing in popularity, CTV usage has spiked and remained high throughout the novel coronavirus pandemic as people stay home and stream more content. The pandemic has also hastened the decline of linear TV, with research firm MoffettNathanson expecting linear pay TV subscriptions to decline by 27 million by 2024.

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign dedicated $60 million in digital media reservations, centering around CTV, but that’s less than one-quarter of the campaign’s total media plan.

CTV buys are typically additive to linear campaigns, said Ken Ripley, vp of sales at Scripps-owned Newsy, since marketers want to reach audiences they can’t find on traditional TV. That could change over the next four years as streaming continues to rise and linear TV continues to fall.

“Some of the people we’re dealing with have already generally adopted CTV. Others are learning it right now,” said Ripley. “I don’t think there’ll be really much of a lag at all in the next cycle, in terms of CTV. It’ll be a standard, planned for part of the media buys.”

Total spend in CTV is expected to reach $8.9 billion this year, according to eMarketer, up nearly $2 billion from the year prior. But spend in traditional linear will dwarf that this year, at an estimated $72 billion, according to the research firm (though that number has likely dropped due to the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic).

@andrewblustein Andrew Blustein is a programmatic reporter at Adweek.