Campaign 2016’s Been Super for Fox News

WASHINGTON — With Super Tuesday (March 1) likely to lock in the front-runners for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations, cable is looking to lock up more spot and national ad dollars from those candidates.

Fox News Channel to date is first, and far ahead, in the race for cable political ads from the presidential race, though with less than a quarter of the total buys, according to a source citing data from cable ad reps Viamedia and NCC Media.

ESPN is No. 2 at about half that, followed by CNN, HGTV and USA Network to round out the top five.


Fox News, a favorite with Republican viewers, and other cable outlets benefitting from the political largess are certainly sorry to wave goodbye to Jeb Bush, whose exit also saw the exit of the Republican race’s top spender, with $77 million in TV advertising, according to Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group).

But even if Super Tuesday winnows the field, some big spenders will likely remain.

Hillary Clinton is the top spender at $189 million, combining outside groups (PACs, SuperPACs) and her campaign committee, followed by Ted Cruz at $101 million. Most of the ad spending comes from outside groups, rather than the candidates themselves.

For example, while Rubio’s campaign has spent $8.5 million on advertising, 26% of its total $32.7 million campaign spending, according to Sunlight Foundation, a single PAC supporting Rubio, Conservative Solutions, has spent $35 million of its $41 million on ads.

Boosting cable’s profile as an ad platform has been its rise as the go-to platform for political battling.

Of the 10 Republican debates held so far, for example, eight have been on cable. There are at least three more Republican debates over the next three weeks, with at least two of them on cable (the third is TBD).

Fox News and CNN have both been generating big ratings — sometimes record ratings — with the lion’s share of debates and town hall meetings, often promoted like action movies. The most recent: CNN and Telemundo drew a combined average 14.5 million viewers for the Thursday (Feb. 25) Republican debate in which Rubio and Cruz verbally pummeled Trump. Given the ensuing fireworks, and rhetorical punches thrown, the promos seem appropriate.

Fox’s primary and caucus coverage has also set some records, cementing its status as a hot political-ad platform.


And Fox News is not just pulling in GOP dollars. According to Viamedia data, FNC is far and away the top local cable political advertising outlet, which means that money doesn’t all come from the Republican side, though clearly its ads skew in that direction. Viamedia data shows Fox News has captured about one-third of all political ad dollars. The majority of current political ad dollars is presidential, with most of that at the network level.

Viamedia CEO Mark Lieberman said that the large number of candidates in the Republican field has been a huge boon to cable advertising. Asked whether Trump’s free airtime has taken a bite out of that, he suggested a silver lining: “Donald Trump has gotten so much free airtime that the other candidates have to buy paid advertising, including cable, to get their message across.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.