Do media buyers’ primetime program choices line up with what their target voters are actually watching? To answer this question, we again look at the MRI survey data to profile national primetime audiences in terms of their propensity to vote and their partisanship. These data are summarized in the following bubble chart “What Voters Watch in Primetime.”
If you’re trying to reach very high turnout Democratic voters in primetime, the survey says “60 Minutes” should be on your media shopping list. Nearly 70% of the program’s viewers say they regularly vote, and the audience has the second strongest Democratic party skew of the primetime programs profiled in our analysis.
If you’re looking for higher turnout Republicans, you can find them watching ABC’s primetime college football on Saturday night. On Sunday night, these same Republicans are more likely to be watching NBC’s primetime National Football League game than of “60 Minutes.”
Next we can compare voters’ viewing choices with the media buying decisions made by Republican and Democratic advertisers in the fall of 2010. This is done in the bubble chart “What Campaigns Bought In Primetime” where the size of each bubble represents the number of political spots bought in the program, the horizontal axis shows the partisanship of the audience, and the vertical axis shows whether the program was bought more often by Democrat or Republican advertisers.
This graph tells us that both Republican and Democratic media buyers understood that the voter audience for “30 Rock” skews strongly Democratic. Consequently, Democratic campaigns were more likely than Republicans to buy the Thursday night NBC program which stars two real-life Democrats: Hollywood activist Alex Baldwin, who plays a Reagan-loving (and thus obviously fictional) New York City television executive, along with his harried employee Tina Fey who became famous pretending to be a Republican on “Saturday Night Live.”
The audience of “30 Rock” is very likely to vote – almost as likely as “60 Minutes” viewers. Since media buyers typically target base voters as well as swing voters, it’s surprising that Democratic advertisers didn’t buy more “30 Rock” spots. Democrats bet their 2010 strategy on turning out their core voters, but the small size of the “30 Rock” bubble indicates that relatively few political ads ran on the program. Democrats bought marginally more spots in two other sitcoms with PG-13 themes and Democratic leaning audiences: “Cougar Town” and “Two and a Half Men.”
While Democrats were buying edgier, bicoastal sitcoms, Republican advertisers were more comfortable with fly-over America, family-friendly comedy such as ABC’s long running “America’s Funniest Home Videos” on Sunday nights. As the bubble graph shows, the partisanship of the “AFHV” audience is in the middle, meaning the program is more likely to deliver swing voters.
The drawback of “AFHV” is that the program’s adult viewers are less likely to vote than the audiences of most other primetime programs. But this didn’t stop Republican campaigns from buying many more spots in the program than their Democratic counterparts. “AFHV” has an intuitive appeal to Republican media planners because it’s one of the few primetime comedies that can be safely watched by families with younger children – a demographic that is more likely to lean Republican.
Media buyers in both parties seem to understand that football has a strongly Republican audience, and GOP campaigns were much more likely than Democrats to buy both college and professional primetime games. Republicans were also more likely to place spots in primetime NASCAR and baseball broadcasts. The sports audience skews male, middle-aged and higher income. Sports viewers, particularly fans of college sports, are more likely to be higher turnout Republican and Republican leaning voters. Recognizing this, Republican media buyers bought 2.8 times as many spots on primetime college football than did Democratic media buyers (see table below). After sports, crime-related programs represent most of the other programs that are more likely to be bought by Republicans. While Republican media buyers are targeting male voters, Democrats seem to be aiming for females. Democratic media buyers are more likely than Republicans to select talk shows and situation comedies with high percentages of women in their audiences. As pointed out earlier, Democrats are more willing than Republicans to advertise in sitcoms that feature edgier and adult-themed humor such as “Two and a Half Men,” “Cougar Town,” and “30 Rock.”
As shown in the graphic on page 5, primetime television is the most expensive of all TV dayparts. Consumer advertisers are willing to pay significantly more per-viewer for the larger and more attentive audiences found in the evening. Primetime also reaches people who cannot be reached in other less expensive dayparts such as daytime where the audience is older, more female, and less upscale. The advertising market bids up the price of primetime audiences.
According to our research on daily voter viewing habits, Republicans and independents make up a larger share of the audience in primetime than during the day or late at night. The downside of primetime is the high cost — the average local market price to reach one thousand adults in primetime is more than twice the cost of reaching one thousand adults in daytime. This makes primetime program choices particularly important and expensive decisions for Republican media buyers.
For example, an ABC affiliate in a major Florida market was getting $13,000 in early October for a thirty second spot in “Dancing With the Stars” on Monday night from 8 to 9 pm. The average local audience as estimated by Nielsen was 9.9% of adults, which translates into a cost of $39 to reach one thousand in the market. But that looks cheap in comparison to the $16,000 asked by the same station for a spot on Thursday night’s “Grey’s Anatomy.” That program is watched by an average of 4.9% of adults in the market for a cost-per-thousand of $98. In this market, a campaign media planner should be buying more spots on “Dancing” than on “Grey’s Anatomy.”