The volatility of online political ads could be TV’s salvation in 2020

All the signs are that 2020 is going to be a turbulent, challenging year for marketers — digital marketers in particular. That’s the cold reality. But like a New Year’s Day polar bear plunge, a dose of cold reality can be quite bracing and help provide sharpness and clarity. In that spirit, here are three predictions to help you clear your head for the new year.

1. The Cold Reality: Digital will become the new “too big to fail”

I’ve been warning for years that digital would trigger unwanted government oversight if it didn’t get its act together on privacy. Still, I don’t think the government will allow digital to collapse entirely, for the same reason that the government kept the financial sector afloat after the 2008 meltdown. There are simply too many jobs at stake.

Almost all of the revenue at Google and Facebook comes from digital ad dollars. Those companies, along with the remainder of the top five in digital ad revenue — Amazon, Microsoft and Verizon — all wield enormous clout. They will continue to not just survive, but also thrive.

The Hot Take: Most consumers have reasonable expectations

The truth is that most consumers expect a certain amount of their personal information to be shared, and most don’t mind — when it’s done within reason. So I’ll leave you with a dash of optimism. Although the process will be painful, I think eventually regulators will strike a balance between providing reasonable consumer protection and maintaining the status quo in digital.

2. The Cold Reality: TV will never regain its dominance

Another institution once considered “too big to fail” might not be. Just look what’s happening in television. As digital ad spend continued to soar, TV ad spend declined by 2.2% in 2019. And while eMarketer notes that “The presidential election next year will propel TV ad spending back into positive growth, before falling again in the following years,” I’d say even that “positive growth” should come with an asterisk (see my next prediction).

The Hot Take: Even in its diminished state, TV can remain a major player

As TV holds steady in 2020 (and probably 2021), it should gird for a pivotal moment in 2022. That’s when NFL broadcast rights come up for renewal.

To date, the one area where TV has been able to hold its own against digital is in live programming, sports in particular. But if one of the major streaming services makes a concerted bid to carry NFL games — look out. 

I have no doubt that TV execs are well aware of the stakes. With two years to prepare, expect them to hold onto those NFL rights at all costs.

3. The cold reality: Digital ads will provide the biggest bang for the political buck

For another measure of TV’s declining influence, let’s take a quick backward glance. In its postmortem on the 2016 election, Fortune reported that Hillary Clinton “placed a far greater emphasis than Donald Trump on television advertising, a more traditional way of reaching swaths of voters. She spent $72 million on TV ads and about $16 million on internet ads in the final weeks.”

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