CTV Can Transform the 2024 Election Like Linear Did In 1960 – But is it Ready?
The 2024 election cycle will transform digital media’s role in how citizens perceive their candidates and causes. All eyes are on Connected TV in particular, as it replaces broadcast and cable for overall reach and benefits from the first- and third-party data targeting that makes digital campaigns so efficient.
If the 1960 televised presidential debate marked the beginning of the electronic political media era with advertising jumping from print to television, the 2024 cycle marks the shift from the early Internet-era campaigns on platforms like Facebook into a world where high-impact streaming TV advertising can be tested and refined in real-time, with measurable outcomes and results. That is, provided the technology industry doesn’t kill the opportunity before it becomes real.
The rapid decline of broadcast and cable audiences has accelerated greatly even since the 2020 election, creating a paradox for political advertisers and a unique opportunity for those who understand the nuances of this shift. It isn’t just that some emerging AVOD and FAST channels are garnering as many concurrent viewing households as primetime shows (approx. 150,000). It’s that these are newly forming households of persuadable voters, who will never be cable or broadcast viewers.
Most importantly, this core constituency of voters, at this specific life stage, is showing up to vote at increasing rates. More importantly, they are beginning to consider their local races as well as state and national elections. In short, with the margins of victory as close as they have been in the current political climate, winning these digital native households over to one side can be the determining factor in a winning or losing campaign.
Regrettably, over the course of 2023, many ad tech and digital media platforms backed away from the political media business. Xandr, a digital media advertising platform owned by tech giant Microsoft, disqualified itself from being a part of the American political conversation. Just a day before the 2023 off-year election, Facebook parent Meta announced that it will not accept political advertising that has been generated by AI. Strangely, both Facebook and YouTube will allow advertisers to question the validity of past elections, but not current or ongoing contests.
Perhaps this will come as a relief for that part of the electorate on social media who want to more thoroughly re-litigate the 1888 election of William Henry Harrison, who was the first President to lose the popular vote but still win the presidency by virtue of the Electoral College.
But none of this is good news for constituents, some of whom enjoy exercising their voting franchise and who benefit from the kind of political advertising that informs, inspires, and contributes to their decisions about issues and candidates.
This is especially bad news for digital publishers (including those in CTV) who build audiences by providing content of genuine interest, and who sit at the intersection of these potential voters and the advertising technology platforms that can reach them. Devoid of political advertising, these audiences will depend more and more upon information from the algorithmic amplification of partisan messaging on social media, and will be less able to discern the true differences between parties, candidates, or causes.
It’s clear that some topics are sensitive to some audiences. The categories where Meta has banned AI-generated ads are very wide, including “Social Issues” and “Financial Services.” But for ad tech companies to abdicate their role as a connector of audiences to messages is a crucial mistake that will have real-world consequences.
Despite its (unearned) reputation in the marketplace, ad tech provides essential value by creating the safety and suitability layers that buyers and sellers need to feel assured. Messaging on sensitive topics is just that – sensitive – accurate placement of messages to receptive consumers on actively compliant publishers requires data and an eye for nuance.
Most political media buyers understand that digital media has revolutionized their strategy. They are no longer blasting blanket messages to the masses, but looking to influence the undecided. These buyers deserve to be able to plan, measure, and optimize digital campaigns with the confidence that they are reaching scaled audiences that are deeply engaged and open to campaign messaging.
Taking a step backwards in the wider digital space harms everyone, including voters. But most of all, it could clip the wings of a CTV segment that is supposed to fly this year. Politics is messy work. The best way forward for the media industry is to ensure that we build clean tools, rather than try to sweep the mess under the rug.
[Editor's note: This is a contributed article from Equativ. Streaming Media accepts vendor bylines based solely on their value to our readers.]
Audiences are spending more time watching connected TV (CTV) than ever before, and CTV offers unique opportuniites to reach voters in a targeted fashion.
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