How Much Did Radio Get In 2020 Elections?


In a year unlike any other for the radio industry, record-setting political dollars helped soften the blow. Now that the election is in the rear-view mirror (apart from a pair of hotly contested Senate run-off races in Georgia), how much was spent on radio? According to new data provided to Inside Radio by Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, the 2020 haul for radio was about $275 million.


That is less than the $500 million that Kantar had originally estimated radio would get. But it is


roughly $100 million more than the $170 million estimate from Advertising Analytics for radio in the 2020 election cycle.


Here’s how Kantar came up with the $275 million estimate. Using its new CMAG Competitive subscription-based tool, it tracked $230 million in radio spend from federal advertising, governor’s races, the presidential contest and a slews of ballot measures in California. But the tool, which shows ad buys at the local station levels, doesn’t account for down ballot races, where radio tends to take a large share of the pie.


“You have to put some work into getting the radio stuff, we have to make a lot of phone calls, it’s doesn’t just fall in,” says Steve Passwaiter, VP/GM at CMAG. After the election ended, the firm made calls to some of the networks to fill in the gaps in its numbers. “We figure there's at least another $40-50 million that we weren’t tracking which puts radio at $270 million to $275 million.”


For radio, one of the big storylines was the amount of money directed at minority audiences. Hispanic media giant Univision reported $34 million in total political and issue advertising across TV and radio in Q3, far exceeding what it saw in the 2018 and 2016 election cycles. Entravision, which owns and operates primarily Spanish-language TV and radio stations, reported $6.3 million in political during third quarter. TV captured most of that with radio pulling in $1.2 million. Entravision said it expected total political ad sales to reach $28 million for the entire 2020 election cycle, far exceeding its previous record of $16.6 million set in 2012. African American media specialist Urban One wrote up $4.43 million in political orders during Q3, including $2.4 million for its radio segment. “The political advertising environment has been nothing short of extraordinary,” CEO Alfred Liggins said.


Passwaiter says one of the lessons learned during the 2020 election is candidates can’t take minority voters for granted. “More Hispanic voters went for Trump this time around and Trump also did well in the African American community compared to other Republicans,” he says. “If anything, the owners of ethnic media are going to see some bounty here in future political campaigns. Because now, all of a sudden, these audiences – that had have not been perceived to have been up for grabs – are now up for grabs. It might portend good things to come in that regard.”


Across all media channels, Kantar estimates a staggering $8.5 billion was spent during the 2020 election cycle, far exceeding its original projection of $6 billion made in summer 2019. In late February the firm raised its 2020 campaign spending estimate another half-billion dollars to $6.5 billion. The reason for the February hike was simple: the campaign of Democratic hopeful and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had a net worth of $61.9 billion. In July Kantar hiked the forecast again, to $7 billion. That was later revised upward to $8 billion and now, post-election, to $8.5 billion. Most of that, of course, went to TV.


“But a rising tide lifts all boats and there were a lot of rising boats this year,” Passwaiter says. “Money was no object, particularly going down the stretch in the last 6-8 weeks.”

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