As the brutal 2016 presidential campaigns mercifully draw to a close Tuesday, so does the political advertising season. TV broadcasters, who have long profited from the rancor and mud slinging, have had mixed results, however.
TV and radio group E.W. Scripps(SSP) - Get Report posted disappointing political ad sales last week, and station owner and cable network operator Sinclair Broadcasting's (SBGI) - Get Report results were also below expectations. But CBS (CBS) - Get Report head Les Moonves claimed that presidential ad spending was up strongly for his company, while station owner and magazine publisher Meredith(MDP) - Get Report was also bullish, in their respective earnings calls.
Scripps CFO Tim Wesolowski outlined one of the central themes of this year's election in the company's Friday earnings call. "In the third quarter, the two presidential candidates spent about a third of what their predecessors spent on our stations in the third quarter of 2012," Wesolowski said. "Donald Trump in particular spent a fraction of what past Republican candidates have spent on television ads.""
Scripps' third quarter political sales of $27 million was about half what the company expected. Scripps had earlier scaled back full-year political ad sales expectations to $100 million from earlier guidance of $135 million to $150 million.
The top of the ticket is especially important to Scripps, as Marci Ryvicker of Wells Fargo outlined in a report. "[Scripps] has the most geographic exposure to the traditional Presidential swing states -- and the spending there just didn't materialize," she wrote.
Spending on Senate races in Colorado, Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin "dried up," said Wesolowski. Scripps did cite Las Vegas as a bright spot, with spending on Senate and Presidential campaigns there up 50% from 2012.
Meanwhile, Sinclair also felt the Trump effect. "No surprise here is that political ad spending for 2016 has not been at the levels anticipated due to the unique nature of this year's presidential election and certain contested bases in our markets not materializing," said Chief Operating Officer David Amy on Sinclair's Nov. 2 earnings call. "In particular, Trump has not raised the same level of funding as past candidates."
Third-quarter political revenues of $45 million missed Wells Fargo's forecast by $1 million. The bank also reduced its fourth-quarter political forecast from $130 million to $125 million.
Still, Amy suggested that late advertising as the campaigns wind to a close has been strong and the company would set a full-year political spending record.
Meanwhile, CBS's Moonves touted his company's political results.
"Despite what you may have heard from other station groups, 2016 will be a record-breaking year for us in terms of political spending," Moonves said. "In fact, our total billing for this year's Presidential race is on track to be 74% higher than it was four years ago and while the top of the ticket may be getting more attention, it's what's happening at the local levels that's really interesting." Special propositions in California and the Senate race in Pennsylvania have helped results, he said.
Down ballot races also benefited Meredith, which saw quarterly political revenues grow 25% from the same period in the 2014 elections to $16 million.
"Spending is particularly heavy in Las Vegas, driven by the Presidential election, a close U.S. Senate race to replace the retiring Harry Reid, and by two tight races for the U.S. House," said Meredith Corp CFO Joseph Ceryanec on the company's earnings call. "It's also heavy in Missouri, where there's an open seat for governor and where Senator Roy Blunt is in a tight race for re-election."
Senator John McCain's "closer-than-expected race for re-election" aided its Phoenix operations, Ceryanec said.
Ad trends in Meredith's Las Vegas, Phoenix, St. Louis and Kansas City markets are also strong, even if viewers and voters are ready for the election to end.
"Literally, it is every other spot is a political ad, which is kind of tough for the viewers but for our political revenues it's great," said Paul Karpowicz, who runs Meredith's TV unit.