Sports, 2020 Election News Are Driving TV Ad Impressions in Q3

Terry McLaurin (17) of the Washington Football Team during a regular season game on Oct. 4, 2020
(Image credit: Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images)

As the COVID-19 pandemic has continued, many U.S. TV viewers remained stuck indoors. However, with live sports returning, there was more premium inventory to watch. iSpot, the always-on TV ad measurement and attribution company, dug into advertising trends during Q3, and one thing was made very clear: Despite 2020 being an abnormal year, some long-standing truths remain — namely, that sports and politics/election coverage are huge drivers of impressions. 

iSpot looked at the top networks by Q3 TV ad impressions compared to the same period in 2019 and found that of the top 10, eight increased impressions year-over-year, and nine of the top 10 shows increased impressions. That group of programs included both NBA and NHL games, which typically don’t air in Q3, as well as NFL and MLB games.

Top networks in Q3 2020 by ad impressions

(Image credit: iSpot)

TNT saw the largest year-over-year increase in impressions (94%) of the top 10 networks, thanks to the delayed NBA season and playoffs. In fact, NBA impressions (over 31 billion) were tops among all new, non-syndicated shows — displaying an impressive dominance despite only starting in late July and airing outside of its typical timeframe. On the flip side, ESPN had a 24% decrease in impressions year-over-year and NFL games delivered 37% fewer impressions compared to the same stretch last year. However, there were also fewer games due to COVID postponements, and no preseason games this year. 

Cable news was another big growth area, due to COVID-19 coverage and the election cycle: Fox News was up 40% year-over-year, while CNN saw a staggering 78% increase in impressions vs. Q3 2019. 

Of the top shows by impressions, six were news-related (the other four were the major sports leagues). All the top news programs saw a year-over-year increase in impressions: CNN Newsroom had a whopping +234% increase in impressions, America’s Newsroom saw a 47% increase and Good Morning America had a 25% increase in impressions compared to Q3 2019.