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U.S. political CTV ad spend projected to grow by 600% this presidential election cycle

A man in a suit speaks into microphones on a podium that displays a connected TV with a red, white and blue test pattern.

Illustration by Dave Cole / Getty / Shutterstock / The Current

During Ron DeSantis’ gubernatorial reelection run in 2022, his media team leaned heavily into streaming and online video advertising, directing $20 million of the overall $70 million budget into those channels.

The strategy became a resounding success, according to Tim Cameron, co-founder and CEO of FlexPoint Media, the media planning team that ran DeSantis’ campaign. DeSantis overwhelmingly won his reelection campaign, landing the largest margin of victory in a Florida gubernatorial election since 1982.

Through connected TV (CTV), DeSantis’ team was able to customize his messaging for various groups of voters, from veterans to South Floridians. That precise targeting helped lead DeSantis to win the typically Democratic stronghold areas of Miami-Dade County and Palm Beach County, according to Cameron. Miami-Dade County and Palm Beach had not voted Republican since 2002 and 1986, respectively.

“[CTV is] certainly the fastest-growing line item on almost any political budget at this point, with broadcast relatively stagnant [and] linear [TV] losing ground,” Cameron tells The Current.

Cameron’s words ring true: U.S. political CTV ad spend is projected to climb a staggering 600% from 2020 to 2024 to $1.56 billion, according to Emarketer. Overall, political ad spend in the U.S. is forecast to hit a record $12.32 billion, a 28% jump from the 2022 midterms, as President Joe Biden and Donald Trump face off once again in the presidential election this fall.

There are likely several reasons for this sea change — from political advertisers catching up to how potential voters consume media, to streaming services launching ad tiers, more rural areas getting stronger broadband connections and marketers recognizing the immense potential CTV offers.

“[With] the targetability that we have for political, I can identify who might be likely to move the needle,” Owen Barnard, senior director of digital strategy at political firm Sage Media Planning, tells The Current. “And then from there, match it against identity graph solutions and we’re able to talk to the limited subset of folks that make the most sense for us. Between access and selectiveness in the audience that we can’t get on any other medium, I think that’s why we’ve seen a big outpouring of spend move towards the streaming space.”

While broadcast is still the dominant form of advertising in the political space, with traditional TV projected to make up 57% of total spend in 2024, marketers like Cameron are realizing the lack of frequency caps in the channel can lead to duplicated reach. This means it’s more likely a candidate may reach the same voter multiple times, instead of many voters, making a campaign less efficient.

“There is waste there for sure,” Cameron says. “A lot of people in politics realize that they’re not going to reach everybody anymore through broadcast and linear cable alone. And if you really want to reach that last 20% to 30% of people, that’s where the CTV piece comes in.”

For instance, analytics firm Cross Screen Media reports that 62% of linear TV ads were seen by only 20% of GOP primary voters.

“In an era where elections can hinge on razor-thin margins, precision is paramount,” Erica Monteith, managing director of digital paid media at political advertising agency GMMB, wrote in a recent op-ed on The Current. “With tens of thousands of voters in a few states potentially swinging the presidency and control of Congress, every ad dollar must deliver targeted, relevant content.”

State and local elections eye CTV investment

While a super PAC supporting President Biden’s reelection campaign says it’s spending record amounts on digital ad buys, the presidential race isn’t the only one where marketers are moving more money into modern channels. Cameron and Barnard work across major state races, congressional ones, and in large cities, and say CTV has huge practical potential across all of those.

“There is a cost-efficiency argument for [CTV] in which people are getting a lot more bang for their buck because they’re only talking to the people they want to, on the devices that they are actually watching [and] in the homes that they actually live in,” Barnard says. “And we can also target more finely. So, the larger investments are actually going to get tailored groups of people and hopefully going a little further with it.”

In a zero-sum game like politics, the difference between winning and losing can be much slimmer in state and local elections.

“When you get to a larger city like San Diego or Atlanta, you’re starting to see campaigns invest in [streaming],” Cameron adds. “And for them, it actually can be extremely cost-effective because they might not be able to get up on TV, but they have an addressable audience in mind and they can make a small $5,000 to $10,000 investment in CTV and reach a lot of voters for the seat that they’re running in.”

So, aside from momentum, what can keep pushing investments toward streaming?

Barnard believes that if streaming implemented the same disclosures that traditional TV requires on political ads, it could lead to a potential windfall. When campaign teams see how much the other side is spending, they’re more apt to throw some more money in the pot. It all fits into the narrative of the campaign and the political horse race attached to it.

“As soon as digital starts reporting that out, I think we’re going to see a flood,” Barnard says.