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Debate audience could hit NFL

News, 21 September 2016

NEW YORK: Sport and politics go head-to-head next week with media buyers expecting up to eight times as many people will watch the first presidential debate due to take place at the same time as the Monday night NFL game.

Dentsu is predicting that more than 80m viewers will tune in for the debate. 


With "so many people still on the fence about who to vote for and the bitterness and nasty-fighting between the two [candidates]", Billie Gold, VP/director of programming at the agency, told the Wall Street Journal he anticipated great TV and increased ratings from the 67m who watched the first TV debate in 2012.

Extrapolating the results of a Morning Consult poll published at the start of the week suggests that the figure could exceed 94m, as 44% of registered voters indicated they were "very likely" to watch and 29% "somewhat likely". That figure would put it on a par with the Super Bowl.

Despite there being no commercial breaks during the debate, broadcasters seem to have had little trouble selling advertising before and after, with both NBC and CBS reported to be charging between $200,000 and $250,000 for 30-second ad spots.

While media agencies have already factored the clash with the NFL into their buying, Doug Ray, US CEO of Carat, added that the impact of the debate on NFL ratings could be bigger than expected in certain swing states such as Virginia, Ohio and Michigan.

And with ad buyers predicting 11m TV viewers at most for the game between the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints, ESPN may struggle to meet its guarantee of between 12m and 14m viewers.

The cable channel is betting on technology to make up the difference. "The debate or the game can be streamed, and we'll be reminding fans of that in the coming days," said an ESPN spokeswoman. "We do expect we'll see a lift in our streaming numbers."

Warc's latest US Ad Forecast, released last month, anticipates a 6.6% rise in TV adspend this year, to a record $68bn. This compares to total market growth of 5.8%, the strongest rate since 2010.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal, Regated; additional content by Warc staff