Think of it as must-book TV.
Six weeks before Election Day, campaigns are deciding where and when they want to air their political ads all over the country. But not all shows and networks are equal in the eyes of media buyers. They have more choices than ever, and they approach these decisions with deliberation and armed with ratings data.
In interviews, operatives repeatedly said they look for three kinds of programs for political ads: Live events, and shows that attract women and seniors. Both parties fight fiercely for the female demographic, and seniors serve as one of the most reliable voting blocs in a midterm.
In an ever-increasing effort to target voters, media buyers are attracted to cable's niche audiences. But they also rely on a few broadcast gems for their desirable voters, er, viewers.
Football Professional football, college football. It doesn't matter: The Gridiron is ratings gold for political media buyers, even overshadowing Major League Baseball playoffs. What's more, audiences almost always watch the game live, so they're less likely to fast-forward through commercials. Even better for pols in peril: Women watch football, too.
"Dancing With the Stars"/"The Voice"/"America's Got Talent" Just like when they watch football, viewers don't often skip through commercials on their DVRs while watching network talent shows. More importantly, the viewership for these shows are predominantly female. The large swath of broadcast television viewers also gives campaigns a chance to pivot to a broader audience after a micro-targeting effort on cable.
CBS Primetime This network is a magnet for political media buyers because its traditional viewership is older than its peers. There's the well-watched weekly newscast, "60 Minutes," which media buyers say is a must-get for most candidates. But also popular is ad time during CBS' narrative dramas such as "The Good Wife," "Blue Bloods" and "Hawaii Five-0."
"They just seem to throw out any kind of a show with an acronym, and it really performs well with an older audience," a Republican media buyer said, alluding to the Eye Network's "NCIS" and "CSI" franchises.
"Wheel of Fortune"/"Jeopardy" Other letters media buyers like? R-S-T-L-N-E. The two long-time game shows are where advertisers reach seniors. A GOP media buyer described them as "mainstays on every political buy for years and years," for this reason.
Daytime Talk Shows Next to seniors, women are probably the most targeted demographic for political ads. Looking for left leaning ladies? Media buyers say "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" is the place to find progressive women. Ondine Fortune, a Democratic media buyer, is jazzed about the new "The Meredith Vieira Show" for its potential female audience reach.
Sources also put "The Today Show" and "Good Morning America" in this female-friendly category too.
Cable News Looking to reach base voters? Nothing beats Fox News and MSNBC. "You can’t get enough of it in a primary setting," the GOP media buyer said about the two channels. Much like local news, CNN presents an opportunity to reach an engaged audience.
To be sure, in a general election, cable news' dominance diminishes as campaigns shift to other niche channels in the campaign. "You start to come off that stuff and more towards entertainment," the Republican added.
But while Fox News is known as the best place to reach conservative viewers, a surprising amount of Democrats watch the net too, according to buyers.
Season Premieres Late September means one thing in television: season and series premieres. GOP media consultant Brian Donahue said, "These programs have a high cross-section viewership, and the networks do the hype themselves, so they drive interest."
The next target on Fortune's list? The new Téa Leoni political drama, "Madam Secretary."
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