The Uncharted Terrain: Political Advertising in 2024’s Streaming Ecosystem

In the upcoming 2024 elections, CTV will be crucial, as political advertisers must adapt and maximize television’s advanced targeting capabilities, with the potential to reach a sizable portion of the electorate through streaming platforms.

Will CTV pick the next president?

Political analysts often talk about the importance of a candidate’s ground game. In 2024, the winning candidates may determine who has the best streaming game. Indeed, as 2024 approaches–and portends some of the most intense races in US elections history– connected TV promises to play a pivotal, perhaps even deciding role. 

That is if campaign strategists–and the cadres of ad-buying specialists they typically deploy–recognize the opportunity before them and are willing to throw away convention.

To win in 2024, political advertisers must prepare to rethink decades’ worth of proven strategies while maximizing their data assets to take advantage of the television’s fast-evolving, advanced targeting capabilities.

A Very Conservative Couple of Parties

Historically, political campaigns–particularly presidential ones–have stuck with a tried and true playbook for getting out the vote. Unlike traditional brands, this isn’t an area where you can afford to ‘test and learn. After all, if a campaign’s media buying strategy doesn’t pan out, it doesn’t just lead to a bad quarter–but the brand in question suddenly goes out of business.

Therefore, media conservatism reigns for both sides of the aisle.

Many recent candidates have embraced digital platforms (remember Bernie Sanders on Snapchat?) — they centered a large portion of this activity around collecting names and fundraising. While President Joe Biden and former President Trump spent $360 million on Facebook and Google in 2020, the two candidates doled out a stunning $1 billion on TV ads in just 13 states, reported NPR. As has long been the case, they focused most of that spending on linear TV, particularly local TV stations in critical districts.

Of course, we know that 2020 was already a long time ago in media time. Over the past few years, the TV terrain has changed radically. For example:

  • Cord cutting has accelerated; per Nielsen, cable TV viewership now accounts for just 30% of TV viewing.
  • Video viewership has quickly shifted to streaming and social video.
  • A new generation of viewers has never had cable and consumes TV with a streaming-first mentality; for the first time this past summer, streaming accounted for most of TV consumption.

Here’s the hard and scary truth for political and traditionalists–given the confluence of these consumer behavioral shifts, a sizable portion of the electorate is simply unreachable through classic political advertising tactics.

Deciding to ignore a significant pool of potential voters, well, that’s not a winning strategy.

The CTV Election

If 2020 seemed like a particularly intense race, wait. Experts predict political brands will dole out a record $10 billion in the US in 2024.

Yet, there is a risk that many of those dollars might go to waste if political operatives don’t fully embrace and master CTV.

Thankfully, the recent growth in ad-supported streaming provides political spenders far more options. Not only have top services such as Max, Netflix, and Disney+ recently rolled out ad-supported options for consumers, but many of these companies are cracking down on password sharing while offering pricing plans that encourage new users to opt for advertising. 

Plus, the growth in free ad-supported services (the FAST category) continues to impress. There are many more outlets for political spenders to recapture much of linear TV’s lost reach.

However, that’s only part of the story. So many more options are available today for candidates to use their TV dollars more strategically. Streaming platforms have positioned themselves to offer political advertisers an edge, enabling them to tailor their messages with unmatched precision. 

Several campaigns saw CTV success in the 2022 midterms as they moved away from cookie-based tactics. Those advancements should only continue. For instance, most major streaming platforms have partnered with clean room tech firms, which should enable political campaigns to use their existing email databases to target interested votes.

In addition, during CTV campaigns, these candidates should be able to derive deeper insights from granular user data, allowing them to make adjustments mid-flight. Overall, CTV should offer a sharper targeting edge compared to linear platforms.

Yet, given these advertisers’ media buying experience, maximizing the CTV opportunity won’t happen by flipping a switch. Now is the time for political brands to take the steps needed to become masters of CTV ad targeting.

That means ensuring they make the best use of their data via the right technology and partners. They’ll need new talent and processes to optimize campaigns with speed and agility.

They’ll also need to start evaluating and pressure testing vehicles like data clean rooms and new forms of addressable CTV advertising today.

At the same time, the streamers have a job to do to capture what should be a potential 2024 windfall. Media companies must craft products and services to cater to these somewhat novice brands. Political campaigns may need training, customized tools, and tailored research. They need reliable attribution systems, as every dollar and vote counts.

The Race Is On

The 2024 political season, particularly the presidential race, will be more competitive and likely more volatile than ever. As we’ve seen in several local battles, a handful of votes can determine the difference between winning and losing, so every potential voter reached will be essential.

Therefore, the political ad teams that reorient their media focus on the need to go after those ‘unreachable voters,’ with as much targeting sophistication as possible, will be the ones that prove to be winners on Election Day.