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U.S. DRTV Marketplace 2016: A Look Ahead

Politics, Schmolitics. Quoting directly from Alex Lifeson’s 2013 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction speech (if you’re not familiar, Google it): “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah! Blah! Blah! Blah! Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!”

Raise your hand if that’s how you feel about another election cycle. On top of the mudslinging and divisive rhetoric, there is that tiny little matter of navigating around this mess in the media marketplace.

2012 saw a record year from a spend perspective and 2016 is expected to top that. I think we can all assume that every election between now and when the sun swallows the earth will be more expensive than the one before it.

Looking ahead to the 2016 election, Kantar Media predicts overall TV spending for the 2016 elections will be about $4.4 billion, up roughly 16% from the $3.8 billion candidates and outside groups laid out for cable and broadcast ads in 2012. Candidates and outside groups are expected to spend $1.1 billion on digital advertising in 2016, up almost 700% from $162 million in the 2012 elections1.

David Axelrod revolutionized modern-day campaigning by bringing the use of technology to the forefront, but linear TV is still a big part of political strategy since the people who keep the torch alive for good, old fashioned TV watchin’ are also the very same folks who vote consistently.

For TV spending, there will be some cable presence but local broadcast markets in the battleground states (Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio and Virginia with some heavy presence also in Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) will be the most saturated. If the pattern from 2012 holds, the spending heat map will look something like this:

If your direct response campaign depends heavily on these markets, you will have to plan your flights around the primary and general election windows unless you can afford to take a hit on rates to hold your ground with inventory. If it is important to maintain a presence, book early to secure the time and convey your desire to clear—even if it means paying more.

If efficiency thresholds will make paying elevated rates impossible for you to maintain your DR campaign goals, you might explore moving a portion of your budget into other non-battleground markets or even national cable.

Summer Olympics from Rio

The Olympics are scheduled to begin August 5th in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and will conclude on August 21st. Olympic impact is traditionally felt first on the network and then on the affiliate level in the spot markets. Also heavily impacted are the NBC-owned cables with coverage airing heaviest throughout the afternoon and primetime hours. Additionally, there will be some impact in late fringe with tape-delayed airings of early rounds of select sports and recap shows. It was announced last year that the coverage will include Ryan Seacrest. Make of that what you will…

If you don’t depend on these areas, you will have a slight reprieve, but advertisers that rely heavily on these areas and are not a part of Olympic sponsorship will be forced into other areas of the market to meet their budgets. NBC plans a bazillion (estimated) hours of coverage per day across all of its platforms, including NBC network, NBC Cable, Telemundo and

Expect no clearance on the NBC stations unless you pay a premium for the time and heavy pre-emption on non-NBC properties as other advertisers are forced to spend their budgets elsewhere in the market. The effect will continue to ripple throughout August and into September, just in time for the opening of the fall election window!

TV Trends

Cord Fraying/Cutting

The major trend in TV watching continues to be cord fraying and cord cutting, but numbers suggests this trend may be slowing. Tens of thousands of people cancel their cable packages every quarter, but there are still one hundred million people who haven’t. This doesn’t mean direct response advertisers can ignore it—we still need to develop strategies to reach audiences, such as embrace digital marketing—but it does mean linear TV as we know it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

While the percentage of those cord-cutting seems to be slowing, the percentage of people returning to the living room (or other TV-enabled rooms in their house) have increased in the last three years, showing a trend away from consuming TV on desktop devices and back to a traditional TV via over-the-top (OTT) solutions like Apple TV and Roku, among others. This is good news on the front of those who have frayed and not cut, and suggests the trend may shift back to fraying and not outright cutting.


Scanning ahead in 2016, it’s clear to see that are a few large marketplace hurdles to clear (getting into the Olympic spirit). The marketplace continues to change daily and we are in for a wild ride with the political season.

No one truly knows what the future holds, but rest assured that the ride in 2016 will be interesting for direct response marketers and advertisers. The good news? 2017 looks very, very bright in comparison.


About the author

Rebecca Barr, Executive Vice President, Media Strategy & Investment

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