Six years ago, when The E.W. Scripps Company acquired leading cross-platform television news network Newsy, the world looked a bit different than it does now. Programmatic advertising was still viewed somewhat suspiciously by TV buyers and sellers; over-the-top (OTT) streaming services were in their infancy; and big data in elections was the province of experts such as analyst and statistician Nate Silver.
Going into 2020, Scripps' forward-looking investment has paid off. Newsy has found success in OTT and now has its own linear cable channel. As part of the plan to continue and expand on that success, and in preparation for the busy 2020 political year, Newsy is partnering with the political ad team nested within Scripps, based in the heart of Washington, D.C.
During the 2016 election, Scripps' nascent MarketPredict product was returning data that was more accurate as to voters' inclinations than most public polls. That was a bit of a lightbulb moment for Michael O'Brien, vice president of distribution for Scripps, and the company's political ad team. In January 2018, MarketPredict was officially unleashed onto the market. The product uses live predictive modeling that pulls from data sets such as TV ratings, polling, and social media.
This insight-delivering product has become a crucial arrow in the quiver of Scripps' political ad team, which consists of veteran political sales consultants with deep industry expertise. "Our D.C. operation, along with our recent mergers, sets us up perfectly, not just for this election cycle, but [also] for the next four," O'Brien said.
That is one of the draws that led Samantha Osborne Reynolds to join the Scripps team as senior director of national sales. "Digital and television buying has been siloed the last few years, but that's starting to change," she said. And she would know. Reynolds brings a wealth of experience from political agencies, including serving as the past chief digital officer for the Republican National Committee.
Agencies, Reynolds added, are now looking at their budgets in terms of video, rather than just TV or digital. Newsy's vice president of sales, Ken Ripley, agrees. "That shift provides immense opportunity for an operation like Newsy," he said. "We can be put into play on a local basis, but is also a national platform," he continued. "We draw demand happily from the on-demand and linear marketplace."
The Scripps political ad team has been a crucial asset in all this growth and change.
As in real estate, location is key for political advertising; not just the markets in which campaigns advertise, but also where the buyers and sellers are located. When you look at the $6 billion political ad pie (or $10 billion, depending on what you're counting as part of the pie), O'Brien said, 80 percent of that revenue is being placed by 20 percent of the political agencies — "and they all have their buyers in D.C." Though, yes, remote work and programmatic ad buying are on the rise, and all politics are local, physical proximity is still vital to the business of political ad-buying. "There's no room for, 'We'll get to it later,'" Ripley said. "You need to have people on the ground; there's an urgency for every one of these races."
Campaigns will get updated poll numbers in the middle of the night and by early morning Reynolds' team will already have changes to ad copy or strategy that needs to be turned around that day. And because Newsy content lives on every platform where consumers looking for news, it combines the reach of linear with the flexibility and accountability of digital. "The real value of OTT is that the completion rate is something like 98.9 percent," Reynolds said, "typically on the biggest screen in the room: the TV screen."
And while tech behemoths such as Google and are putting the kibosh on political ads on their platforms — in part thanks to increased scrutiny by regulating bodies — the OTT world has seen no such backlash. The targeting tools available to all OTT advertisers are still available to all political advertisers. Combined with Scripps' data and general local market knowledge, these tools take on added value.
In the digital news world, advertisers are increasingly concerned about brand safety, which is why, for O'Brien, Reynolds, and Ripley, the most valuable aspect of Newsy is the fact that it is an unbiased news organization.
"How most cable news networks achieve their ratings is, well, how theydo it," Ripley said. "We follow the mandate of journalism — there's plenty of room in the center to provide perspective, as opposed to riling people up."
And though the 2020 election is shaping up to be quite fierce, O'Brien, Reynolds, and Ripley are already looking well beyond November 3.
"The political cycle never ends," O'Brien said.
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