Donald Trump is breaking away from other Republican candidates in a whole new way. The Washington Post reports his campaign will negotiate directly with networks on the rules of future debates, complicating a joint effort by most rival campaigns to deal with the networks together.
Bold new demands by candidates for more favorable debate terms come in the wake of the latest debate on CNBC, which drew strong ratings — at 14 million people, more than quadrupling the audience of CNBC’s debate four years ago — as well as fierce criticism from campaigns about how it was conducted.
With the primary debates smashing ratings records, candidates have figured out what the NFL and other sports leagues have known for a long time: those who control content that big audiences will watch live can drive a hard bargain with TV networks. That kind of programming is a rare thing in the age of DVRs. Big live audiences mean networks can charge premium ad prices.
But just like in government, politicians have to be wary of the limits of their power.
“I think that the candidates potentially overestimate the leverage they have,” said Jon Swallen, chief research officer at Kantar Media. “The commercial load here is 30–40 percent of what normal programming on these networks has. Even with the higher than normal advertising rates, they’re not bringing in windfall amounts of advertising revenue.”
And unlike pro sports, the presidential race only comes around every four years.
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