Fox News hosts regularly bash former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg as a globalist demagogue intent on seizing Americans’ firearms and big gulp sodas. High-level executives at the company, however, are much more enthusiastic about the billionaire politician and Democratic presidential candidate.
Lachlan Murdoch, the chief executive of Fox Corp., the parent company of Fox News, is one of several media executives to welcome Bloomberg’s unprecedented spending spree on television advertisements. In a February 5 briefing for investors, Murdoch noted that he had heard “the Bloomberg campaign has expected to sort of double its advertising spend earlier this week.” The billionaire’s campaign, Murdoch noted, makes purchases on a week-to-week basis, making it difficult to project the ultimate benefit for his company.
“But obviously,” he added, “we expect it to be very strong and particularly, as I mentioned, in the markets of our local TV stations.”
Bloomberg, the ninth wealthiest person in the world, with a fortune estimated at almost $62 billion, has upended the Democratic presidential primary with an infusion of cash that has smashed through historical records in a matter of weeks. Advertising Analytics, which tracks campaign spending, reported Thursday that Bloomberg has already spent $363 million on cable, broadcast, and radio advertisements alone.
The 2020 campaign is shaping up to be an incredible financial opportunity for media companies, with one market research firm recently estimating that nearly $7 billion of paid advertising be spent this year, up over 60 percent since the 2016 presidential race.
Bloomberg alone has enticed media executives to see the race as a golden opportunity.
“The political is going to be huge this year,” boasted Christopher Ripley, president and chief executive of Sinclair Broadcast Group, one of the largest owners of television stations in the country, speaking last month at the Citi 2020 Global TMT West conference in Las Vegas. “The amount of fundraising that’s happened through this year has broken all records. And the good news about politicians is they never return the money, they spend it,” Ripley quipped.
Sinclair, said Ripley, is “already benefiting tremendously from that and the entrance of players like Bloomberg.”
Meredith Corporation — which owns television stations in several states, including Oregon, Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, and Arizona — also reported its quarterly results this month. “Bloomberg is certainly having an impact across most of our footprint,” beamed Patrick McCreery, an executive with Meredith, during the call with investors.
“If the headlines are to be believed,” said McCreery, “he’s going to double the spending, and that will be beneficial certainly.”
Since Bloomberg’s announcement last November, shares of publicly traded media conglomerates, including Nexstar Media Group and Gray Television, have been on the rise.
“When politicians go to war, own the arms dealers,” Steven Cahall, an analyst with Wells Fargo, wrote in a recent report cited by CNBC. Broadcasting corporations, Cahall noted, “are jazzed to have Bloomberg in the fray.” The billionaire mogul has already caused “a meaningful uptick in Q4 political revenue vs. company plans.”
The use of private funds for campaign spending — a practice banned or sharply restricted in most industrialized countries — creates an inherent tension with the private, for-profit U.S. media market. The same media companies voters turn to for help to make thoughtful decisions about the candidates rely heavily on campaign advertisements designed to manipulate viewers with provocative, low-information emotional appeals and other forms of deceptive electioneering.
The National Association of Broadcasters, a trade group that lobbies for broadcasters, has long fought to maintain the status quo, opposing efforts over the years to require television and radio stations to provide free air time to candidates. The group successfully lobbied to block both the Federal Communications Commission and Congress from enacting rules that would have provided even two hours of public air time to candidates.
In recent months, the NAB has pushed back against FCC efforts to increase enforcement of relatively minor disclosure requirements for television broadcasters to publish invoices from groups or candidates spending money on political advertisements.
The frenzy for presidential campaign cycle profits likely shaped the media environment for Donald Trump’s election.
In the early days of Trump’s candidacy, media executives openly celebrated his entry, hoping for a bonanza in ratings and political ad-buying. “The more they spend, the better it is for us and: Go Donald! Keep getting out there,” said Les Moonves, the former chief executive of the CBS Corporation, which is now known as ViacomCBS.
Moonves, who later stepped down over numerous allegations of sexual harassment, summed up his thoughts about Trump at a meeting in San Francisco’s Palace Hotel during the 2016 campaign. Trump’s campaign “circus” he said, “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS, that’s all I got to say.”