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Unproven Social Media Stocks Winning Election 2012

Updated to reflect Nomura, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo comments

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- As the presidential election hits the homestretch, the race isn't just on between Democrats and Republicans.

One of the more intriguing contests of the campaign may center on record election year ad spending on social networks like Facebook (FB - Get Report), Pandora (P - Get Report) and Twitter. It's the first election season during which social media giants are making their pitch for a bigger share of the political dollars that typically go to established Web players like Google (GOOG - Get Report) and Yahoo! (YHOO - Get Report), as well as broadcast giants like Time Warner (TWX - Get Report), CBS (CBS - Get Report) and Disney (DIS).

2012 has been dubbed the social media election, but amid a cacophony of TV ads hitting swing state airwaves in the final 40-plus days of the presidential election, analysts and investors have yet to outline how a surge of campaign ad spending will impact the business models and quarterly earnings of social networks like Facebook, Pandora, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Some analysts expect ad spending this election cycle to add meaningful third and fourth quarter revenue for Facebook and Pandora. Arguably even more important than the earnings boost will be whether the social media giants prove their respective business models work in generating ad dollars as investors demand a clearer picture on platform monetization.

A back of the envelope calculation by Michael Pachter, a managing director of research with Wedbush Securities, signals that social networks may see an election cycle revenue boost of over $100 million in the second half of 2012. [He sees up to $5 billion in overall presidential and congressional ad spending this election season with roughly 10% allocated to the Web.]

The lion's share of political ad spending on the Web goes toward the search market dominated by Google. Still, 25% of Web ad spending may go to social networks this election, says Pachter, with the number expected to rise in coming cycles. That could reverse recent negative trends for Google competitors. According to comScore data, Google's display ads increased 12% year-over-year in August, while Facebook posted a 20%-plus decline.

For Facebook, which is forecast to earn roughly $5 billion in 2012 revenue, according to analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg, a share of such revenue numbers won't make a big impact. However, Pachter says political ad spending could be important for Pandora, which he estimates will earn up to $430 million in fiscal 2013 revenue. "It's meaningful," he says of prospective political revenue for Pandora. "I think it moves the needle even if we are talking about single digit millions," Pachter adds.
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