The 2020 presidential election season is heating up, with the Iowa Democratic caucuses taking place Feb. 3, and cable news’ big three — CNN, Fox News and MSNBC — are poised to haul in millions (and in the case of one network, likely billions) of advertising revenue this season.
According to a story in Variety, SNL Kagan is forecasting that Fox News will make $1.32 billion in advertising revenue this year, while CNN will make $773.1 million and MSNBC $723.1 million.
Each amount would represent an increase from 2019: +7.9% for Fox, +11.7% for CNN and +o.8% for MSNBC.
Year-over-year growth in ad revenue makes sense when comparing an election year with a non-election year, but how does Kagan’s 2020 revenue forecast compare with 2016 election season ad revenue?
In 2016, gross ad revenue for Fox News amounted to $1.1 billion. For CNN, ad revenue in 2016 was $633.9 million, while for MSNBC it was $413.4 million. This is according to a Mediaite report. If these figures are accurate, 2020 would represent roughly +75% growth from 2016 for MSNBC, +22% growth for CNN and +19% ad revenue growth for Fox News.
Despite huge ratings in all relevant dayparts, big brands have steered clear of multiple Fox News prime time shows in the past, which makes the massive revenue projections notable. For instance, Tucker Carlson‘s top-rated 8 p.m. show experienced advertiser boycotts and suspensions due to incendiary remarks he made about immigration. Another Fox News prime time host, Jeanine Pirro, claimed on her show last March that Minnesota freshman congresswoman Ilhan Omar is “sharia compliant” and disloyal to the U.S. Constitution because she wears a hijab. Fox News sidelined her program for multiple weeks back in March.
Despite controversial statements from on-air prime time talent, Fox News ad sales chief Jeff Collins has said repeatedly that ad boycotts haven’t hurt the network’s bottom line.
Here’s what Amplifi US evp of video investment Dave Sederbaum told Variety about brands’ relationships with cable news and opinion programming:
“In an on-demand and delayed viewing world, topical live content should be viewed as a premium. The reality that we continue to hear from our clients is that the ones who support news will continue, and those that have stayed away will continue to stay away. The ‘talking heads’ in prime time command a loyal and passionate audience, but they are still polarizing and not worth the brand association for some of our clients. The appeal of live reach will never outweigh the fear of negative brand perception.”
So, according to Sederbaum, brands aren’t going to hop into the cable news opinion programming pool if they’re not in there already. On the other hand, there will be plenty of opportunity to buy for dayside news programming as election coverage heats up, and dayside still attracts millions of Americans who are watching the content in real-time. Perhaps most importantly to brands, the content in dayside is traditionally less polarizing than prime time.
Again, there’s that “live, real-time” factor. Advertisers love “live” for obvious reasons. “Live” is what has made TV news so popular among advertisers over the years, and it’s what will continue to make the medium popular among advertisers in 2020 and beyond.