It looked like 2016 was going to be the biggest year ever when it came to political ad spending. We called it a "bloodbath." But, like with much in this election cycle, Donald Trump changed the game. His campaign's reluctance to spend money on television ads has broadcasters and analysts projecting much lower than anticipated revenue from political advertising.
Take Sinclair Broadcast Group (SBGI - Get Report) . The Hunt Valley, Maryland company came into this election cycle with the expectation of a huge boost from Hillary Clinton's faceoff with Trump. But this week it lowered its third-quarter media revenue guidance to $637-to-$638 million from $649-to-$633 million, citing slower political ad spending than was previously anticipated. It now anticipates bringing in $46 million in political spend for the quarter, compared to the previous range of $58-to-$68 million. Sinclair rescinded its full-year 2016 political revenue forecast without providing a new one.
"[Sinclair] was clear that the lower political guide is due to Trump not spending as much as anticipated," wrote Wells Fargo (WFC - Get Report) analyst Marci Ryvicker in a note reacting to the announcement. "This is likely an industry-wide phenomenon."
Wells Fargo revised downward its 2017 estimates for Sinclair to $2.72 billion in revenue and earnings of $2.84 per share from revenue of $2.77 billion in revenue and earnings of $3.13 per share. Sinclair Broadcast shares fell 9.41% in trading Tuesday to $25.98 at market close.
About 30% of ad dollars in a presidential year tend to come from the candidates themselves, meaning 15% is what is really what is at risk from Trump, Ryvicker point out. She also notes that with Kellyanne Conway, Trump's third campaign manager, now at the helm, ad spend could pick up.
Another factor: influential Republican donors Charles and David Koch. The pair plans to shift resources away from television advertising and instead towards get-out-the-vote efforts as Election Day nears in an effort to help the GOP retain the Senate in states like Ohio, Wisconsin and Indiana.
Sinclair isn't the only company taking a hit from Trump. Gray Television (GTN - Get Report) said late Tuesday that it is withdrawing its forecast for political ad spend for the third and fourth quarters. The Atlanta-based company cited the unpredictability of reservations this election cycle, especially from the Trump campaign and allied super PACs, whose future spending Gray says is "impossible to predict."
Recent polling between Clinton and Trump could lead to increased ad spending from both camps -- according to a RealClearPolitics poll average Clinton leads Trump by 1.2% nationally -- but there are no guarantees.
Gray also notes that some of its stations are seeing more competitive statewide races in Missouri, Indiana and North Carolina than previously predicted. Conversely, Senate races in Ohio and Colorado have not been as hot as anticipated. And, there is evidence dollars are going to voter organization and ground game as opposed to campaign ads.
In a separate note Tuesday, Wells Fargo reduced its broadcast industry political forecast to $2.65 billion from $3.3 billion, cutting its company-specific forecasts for a number of companies by 5%-to-12%, including Tegna (TGNA - Get Report) , Meredith Corporation (MDP - Get Report) , Nexstar Broadcasting (NXST - Get Report) and Tribune Media (TRCO - Get Report) .
"While there is still hope, the placement of Trump dollars is impossible to predict," Ryvicker wrote, adding that the narrowing of presidential swing states and a number of noncompetitive Senate races have had an impact on spending trends as well.
"We also stress these changes are NOT SECULAR. They are SITUATIONAL, as it has been pretty clear Donald Trump is not a conventional Presidential candidate--something that has impacted ALL races, Presidential and otherwise," she wrote (all caps her's).
The Trump campaign this week filed its August campaign finance report with the Federal Election Commission, revealing spending of $29.9 million. Its largest investment was in digital consulting and online ads to a San Antonio-based firm called Giles-Parscale, which it paid $11.1 million. It paid $4.5 million to media consultant Rick Reed, which places television ads.
According to an analysis from Bloomberg, the Clinton campaign has outspent the Trump campaign on television advertising by more than five times over in the general election so far, $109.4 million to $18.7 million. About two-thirds of her expenditures went towards advertising in August -- the same month Trump bought his first ad.