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Updated May 31, 2024, 5:53pm EDT
media

CNN seeks millions in debate ads

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
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The Scoop

The Donald Trump-driven boom times are back for the business of American television — at least, for one night in June.

Trump’s second campaign hasn’t been the ratings and ad revenue windfall for the news media business that it was during his first presidential campaign and four year term in office.

But details of CNN advertising packages reviewed by Semafor suggests that the network anticipates monster ratings — and big ad dollars — from the first debate of the cycle featuring Trump, his face-off with President Joe Biden on June 27.

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CNN plans to intersperse the presidential debate between Trump and President Joe Biden with advertising breaks, a notable shift from previous recent presidential debates, which were ad free and conducted under the auspices of the Commission on Presidential Debates, Variety reported Thursday.

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Know More

The network is offering two tiers to potential advertisers, according to multiple sources familiar with the discussions not authorized to speak publicly. The top tier, available for just a few advertisers, is a $1.5 million minimum advertising buy with all of the network’s features. The package includes a branded countdown clock, advertiser on-air billboards, co-branded tune-in promotions, a 30 second pre-debate ad slot, a 30-second ad during the debate, and one after. The package also includes ads on MAX and a takeover of the CNN Politics section on its digital site. One million buys several more prospective advertisers into the second tier, which includes the three ads, but fewer digital offerings and (sadly) no branded countdown clock. The network has also limited political spending by campaigns and political action committees to before and after the debate, but will not allow either to buy airtime during the event.

A network spokesperson declined to comment on the ad terms.

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While far from Super Bowl prices, the price tag is even higher that it was for advertising during primary contests.

Variety noted that CBS asked for $200,000 and $225,000 for a 30-second ad during coverage of one of Trump’s debates with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016, and CNN asked for a minimum $300,000 commitment from advertisers seeking to buy additional ads during its 2020 Democratic presidential primary broadcasts.

This cycle’s Republican Primary was a media bust. Last year, Semafor reported that Fox set the prices for a single 30-second spot during the first Republican presidential primary debate at $495,000. But the network cut the price of the debate in half to just over $200,000 for the same slot during the event, $225,000 for 30-second ads during the broadcast immediately after the debate, and $125,000 for 30-second spots during the broadcast before it.

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The premium ad prices reflect the network-wide effort going into next month’s contest, CNN’s most important live event since its town hall with Trump last year. A network spokesperson told Semafor earlier this week that though journalists won’t have access to the actual debate facility on CNN’s Techwood campus, the network is working to outfit a space nearby that can fit the hundreds of journalists it plans to credential for the debate, as well as two separate presidential Secret Service details.

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Max’s view

Americans have largely tuned out the presidential race this election cycle. Presidential election news hasn’t boosted audiences to news sites and television broadcasts like it did in 2016 and 2020. But television audiences have shown that they are willing to show up for presidential debates, particularly the first presidential debate of the cycle. Despite not featuring Trump, the first Republican primary debate on Fox News drew nearly 13 million viewers (viewership dropped significantly for subsequent contests). Advertisers have shown an aversion to putting ads next to political content, but CNN’s high ad rate shows that the network believes the huge audience will overwhelm any brand safety concerns.

The debate comes at a crucial moment for the network. While ratings have continued to crater for all of the cable news networks amid a rise in cord cutting and news fatigue, CNN has suffered more than its competitors. By certain measures, CNN’s ratings have dipped to lows not seen in decades. In an interview last month with the Financial Times, network chief Mark Thompson acknowledged that the cable news industry faced “existential” questions about its future due to the rapid change of consumer behavior, and that the network had “plenty of things we have to fix” in order to survive.

“Do we want to get more competitive in cable TV and by strengthening our schedules? Yes, we do,” he said. “But the rate at which people have been and probably will continue to cut the cord and not look at cable TV at all is a far, far greater strategic threat than the finer points of competition between individual cable channels.”

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