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Steve Passwaiter is Skeptical of 2024 Presidential Ad Spending Projections

“You’d have to raise. I don’t know, $30 [billion], somewhere in the high $20 billions, in order to justify a number that big.”

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A photo of Steve Passwaiter
(Photo: Radio + Television Business Report)

With less than a year until the 2024 Presidential Election, American screens are going to be flooded with political advertising, the billion-dollar industry that keeps the media alive. And Silver Oak Political, and its President Steve Passwaiter, will play a role in it, despite questioning some of the projects put forth thus far.

“I’m old enough to remember when television stations didn’t want political advertising. Now, of course, it makes such a big difference in the odd or even year dichotomy in media because of that infusion,” President of Silver Oak Political Steve Passwaiter told BNM over a Zoom call.

Ad Impact estimates a $10 billion influx of cash for media outlets, while Group M estimates it could bring $16 billion, a 31% increase since 2020.

However, Passwaiter doesn’t believe advertising dollars will hit $16 billion because, “You’d have to raise. I don’t know $30 [billion], somewhere in the high $20 billions, in order to justify a number that big. Generally, advertising is around anywhere from 55 to 60% of every dollar raised goes to fundraising or part of it goes to advertising. Whereas, the rest of it goes to pay for the office space and the staff and all the kind of things you need to run an operation.”

Getting a piece of the political advertising pie might be harder for some this year, because streaming and OTT Services, or as Steve Passwaiter calls it “Connected TV”, have “had a few cycles where they’ve been able to work with the agencies and I think they now have a flow.” He believes, “Politics is a video business. I always say candidates are like car dealers. They’re going to put their faces on TV, whether they should be there or not. And it just sort of comes with the territory,” adding,  “[Video Platforms] are going to be the ones that are going to see the most out of this because that is the way that politics communicates the message.” Passwaiter estimates streaming services plus broadcast and cable will bring in a combined $8.3 Billion, with radio and direct mail “probably pull[ing] in a few hundred million out of this.”

Passwaiter believes “Connected TV [OTT and Streaming] is coming as the numbers grow. And, I think it’s got a very, very bright future in front of it.” He added, “The SAT manufacturers, Vizio, LG, Samsung all have hired their own people to represent them here in Washington. I think they have fast channels that they use that have capabilities to sell. So this cycle, all three decided to hire their own people to represent them here in the political market.”

Advertising dollars could be taken away from both parties because of Robert F. Kennedy Jr’s third-party run. Steve Passwaiter doesn’t know if it helps or hurts either party.

“As people say, the political spectrum is like this [making a straight line motion]. It’s actually a circle. And there’s kind of a place up here where left and right kind of meet. And some people may like [Kennedy’s] stance on, you know, that are normally Republican-leaning in one way or the other. So it’ll be interesting to see.” He later added, “I think at some point some of the stances that [Kennedy has] taken in the past may get placed into more public knowledge, shall we say. And some people are just going to kind of go, ‘Hey, you really want to know the positions this guy has taken because he’s taken some, shall we say, controversial stances in the past. And he said some pretty wild things.’”

In July, Americans got their first taste of Artificial Intelligence (AI) entering into political advertising. A pro-Ron DeSantis PAC simulated President Trump’s voice in political advertising which aired in Iowa. It slammed the former President’s lack of support for the state’s Governor, Kim Reynolds. There was no notice on the ad that the voiceover was not that of President Trump but artificially made.

While he does have concerns Passwaiter says, “It’s like everything else in this world,” adding, “There are things about it that we can think and there are things about it that can really be good. And then there’s the other side of it, which we all look around and go, ‘Well, you know, that could be really bad’.”

When asked if there should be regulation on AI, Passwaiter said, “The government is certainly looking at it, which you can either look at as a joy or horror depending on your point of view. My guess would be that before it gets too out of control and, something will happen. You know, there’ll be some kind of regulation about it.”

He does have concerns about the regulation which could come up, “I’ll say an interesting and sometimes frightening piece of this is when cutting edge technology is brought in front of a congressional hearing here in Washington. You’ve got a bunch of people who are a little further down the road in life who have their staffers trying to tell them what it is because they have no idea,” Passwaiter said.

As for 2024 candidates, Steve Passwaiter told Barrett News Media, “There’s not a lot of enthusiasm in parts of the Democratic base where Mr. Biden is concerned. So, if they can drive that, it’s an interesting strategy and one that may help them quite a bit if indeed Mr. Biden is the nominee of the party.” When asked “You’re still still not convinced?” Passwaiter replied honestly, “I’m not. Listen, I’m not sure about Trump either. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens in these cases.”

Passwaiter’s been involved in the political arena since high school but said today more than ever advertising is essential to the ‘ultimate sport,’ “It’s the primary way today that candidates and the parties and all of their associated interests get to have a conversation with voters.” Passwaiter added, “it’s a very loud conversation. It can be a fairly obnoxious conversation, but it is an important way to get a message out there one way or the other, where more voters are concerned. That’s why it’s important.”

As for the future of political advertising, Passwaiter said, “I keep waiting for the crest of the wave to show up. I keep thinking, it can’t get any bigger. It just can’t grow. And every cycle, it confounds my expectations. I don’t really see anything that’s going to get in the way of this continuing to grow the country. It’s so narrowly divided, which sets up this cage match. Every cycle, this one is going to be no different.”

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BNM Writers

Proof That Both CNN and Fox News Manipulate Their Audiences

Playing with numbers and technicalities is a function of what the media does today. Since the average person just reads the headline, viewers will likely move on if it confirms their own bias.

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When news organizations collide, journalism loses. Last week, CNN posted on X saying “US inflation cooled down in January, offering some relief for Americans who have suffered through the steepest price hikes in four decades.” The same day Fox News posted “BREAKING: Inflation rises faster than expected in January as high prices persist.”

While these are seemingly opposite statements, both can be true at the same time. More importantly, both of these outlets are manipulating their audience.

People like their own opinions and want those opinions verified by others. This is what social media has done to news: You read the post, see your opinion is valid, and then move on to the next clickbait (confirmation bias). More importantly, both of these tweets are true because one is based on an estimate, and one is based on actual numbers.

Looking at CNN, while their post on X seems positive, their business headline is a little less positive, “Inflation cooled last month, but some price hikes continue to cause pain.” The change from tweet to headline is striking. One says Americans are getting inflation relief, the other says inflation continuing to cause pain. In today’s world of “Read the headline and move on,” this is why people feel CNN lies. Its post is in conflict with the headline— even though both are true statements.

It’s not until you read the article that people can see how this is possible. The outlet notes overall inflation did cool when comparing January 2023 (6.4%) to January 2024 (3.1%). Four sentences into the article it says, “CPI rose by 0.3% in January.” It goes on to break down why inflation is still high and causing pain in the pockets of Americans. Although the X post is factually correct, people on the right side of the political spectrum feel CNN is untrue because they see the inflation problem in their bank account.

Meanwhile, the Fox News X post and Fox Business headline are identical, “Inflation rises faster than expected in January as high prices persist.” However, the keyword here is “expected.” Inflation did cool year-over-year. However, because Fox is comparing the January 2024 number to what experts expected the number to be, what they have posted is factually correct. This nuance is sometimes lost on readers.

The article does not mention inflation is down year-over-year. However, nine sentences into the article, the business outlet says, “Inflation has fallen considerably from a peak of 9.1%.” The nuance of “expected” combined with the lack of mentioning year-over-year inflation is down is why the left side of the political spectrum believes Fox lies.

Let’s be clear, neither CNN nor Fox News have lied (on this one specific topic). They both chose to present the same data differently. It also needs to be noted, CNN and Fox News are not the only outlets that do this. They all do. Playing with numbers and technicalities is a function of what the media does today. Since the average person just reads the headline, viewers will likely move on if it confirms their own bias. The problem is twofold.

  • Facts are no longer direct but skewed to fit a narrative.
  • Some viewers accept headlines and posts without diving deeper into the article.

We have been trained to share a headline without reading the article. We’ve known this since 2016 when Columbia University and the French National Institute found 59% of shared social media links were never read. We’ve gone from headlines selling newspapers, forcing people to read the articles, to headlines being shared on social media, but people won’t read the articles.

This is only a small part of why The Messenger failed: neutrality. The sentiment of unbiased news was well-intentioned. However, America has lacked unbiased news since 1987 when the Fairness Doctrine was abolished. Many on the left believe this has helped right-leaning outlets. This is false. Not only has it benefited both sides of the aisle, it can be argued the progressives have benefited more than the conservatives (but that is a different article for a different day).

When news outlets collide, the American public loses. Not because we lack news, but because we lack the ability to read the full scope of the issues in one place. Outlets are not forced to present all sides of the political argument or present the entirety of data sets. Additionally, news is not being fully read. Headlines are now king. Shares, clicks, and likes keep the lights on in newsrooms. Most importantly, facts are now nuanced. This forces debate instead of continuity and cohesion.

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BNM Writers

Does Dealing With Criticism Ever Get Easier?

Engage in the content of the criticism and ignore the rest – or at least take the high road. If that gets difficult, end the conversation.

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A photo of the word Truth written on a typewriter

Thick skin. If you work in media, you gotta have it. If you don’t, you either won’t last or you won’t sleep – or both.

Even if you are neutral politically, super nice, and in it for all the right reasons, there always will be people who criticize you, and some will even make it personal.

Having “thick skin” is a cliché I’ve been thinking about and dealing with for years. I find it fascinating that, somehow, I am way more sensitive at home than I am at work – and by at work, I mean on the air for hours every day.

Even the angriest of listeners are engaging, and engagement is what I want. Sometimes, it can throw a show off-balance, but if handled properly, it should never fully derail you.

Over the years, I have modified my professional behavior, perspective, and attitude, yet my foundational approach has not changed. It began with my first full-time television job when a journalist/mentor of mine told me not to ever act interested in ratings. Rather, he said, focus on my performance and content — the rest would take care of itself.

In my first two anchor/host jobs, it worked wonderfully. I immersed myself in the job, and the ratings were strong. I thought it was a mandate to always take this approach, although in retrospect, I was probably more lucky than good. Regardless, following that mantra actually allowed me to learn my craft and not be overly aware that ratings mattered.

Ignorance was journalistic bliss.

Flash forward to 2024 and it all seems rather naïve, but I think the approach really works well with criticism, too, whether it be on social media, through phone calls or even with fellow hosts.

Just a quick note on nuance: Look at the sentence four paragraphs above – don’t act interested. Looking back at the guidance given by my mentor, his point also seemed to be that even if you are laser-focused on how a show is rating, don’t make it a major topic of conversation, and don’t let people think it defines you as a broadcaster and journalist.

All of it may seem like advice from Fantasyland, but in an indirect way, this approach also makes me less vulnerable to criticism. I simply don’t focus on it too much, and over time, it stopped bothering me even if I did focus on it. Make sense?

Of course, it’s not as if I like it when a listener rips me or the show, either directly or on social media; but I never engage emotionally, and if I do respond in any way, it’s usually content-focused.

That’s the key.

Engage in the content of the criticism and ignore the rest – or at least take the high road. If that gets difficult, end the conversation.

You have the conch. Never forget that.

Ultimately, you’ll feel better, especially knowing you did not take the bait and handled it professionally – no need to create any more tension than is already out in the media eether.

That brings me to the moment a host of a show on my station was sharply critical of an interview I had done, saying it was soft, and not holding the guest (a sitting U.S. Senator) accountable enough.

Specific questions were put forth that absolutely should have been asked, according to the host, and honestly, it was used as a chest puffer for that person to show why certain guests were scared to come on that later show.

And … I thought it was great.

Great?

Well, maybe not great, but I actually had no problem with it. First and foremost, they were talking about it, which is good. When I can provide that kind of grist, it’s good radio. It wasn’t always easy to listen to — I was still in the office doing some booking — but for some reason, it did not bother me. This from a guy who gets a one-second side eye from my wife of 20 years, and I think our marriage is in trouble.

In the end, a few of the criticisms were helpful, believe it or not: One or two of the suggested questions put forth on the later show should have been asked.

It’s all part of the balance I seek to create a place where members of both political parties feel comfortable coming on our network. I always reserve the right to ask difficult questions, and I do ask them (apparently not enough for some), but I also try and be balanced and manage relationships.

It’s delicate, and sometimes, elicits criticism – sometimes deserved. Meanwhile, I just focus on the content, naïve as that may be.

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CBS Mornings Scores Big Post-Super Ratings Win

CBS Mornings became the most-watched program from 7-9 a.m. in total viewers for just the second time ever for a CBS morning news show.

Doug Pucci

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A photo of the CBS Mornings logo

The historic ratings milestones continue for CBS as a result of Super Bowl LVIII.

Less than nine hours following what turned out to be the most-watched telecast in U.S. TV history to date (120.25 million of the near-124 million watching Super Bowl LVIII did so on CBS), CBS Mornings became the most-watched program from 7-9 a.m. in total viewers for just the second time ever for a CBS morning news show.

For the Monday, Feb. 12 edition of CBS Mornings, which featured co-host Nate Burleson from Las Vegas, the site of Super Bowl LVIII, and a visit from Jon Stewart in New York to promote his Daily Show return (which generated great ratings milestones of its own later that night), it delivered 2.9 million total viewers including 654,000 within the key 25-54 demographic, according to Nielsen Media Research. It marked its best total audience and demo figures since Feb. 4, 2022.

CBS Mornings topped ABC’s Good Morning America, the usual morning news viewer leader, by a mere 7,000 viewers; it also outdrew NBC’s Today (2.86 million) by 49,000 viewers.

CBS also bested ABC in A25-54 by +103,000; the sixth time CBS Mornings has led over Good Morning America this season based on the key demo.

This was not the first time a morning show benefited from a halo effect of what the network had aired the night prior. Mar. 8, 2021, was the first time CBS won in the morning. It was the day after Oprah Winfrey’s primetime interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry had aired which drew 17.1 million viewers for CBS. The Mar. 8, 2021 edition of CBS This Morning featured an exclusive interview with Winfrey and the premiere of never-before-seen clips from the Meghan and Prince Harry discussion, had delivered 4.793 million viewers with 1.026 million of them in the 25-54 demographic.

The program changed its title to CBS Mornings in September 2021.

For this 2023-24 season, CBS Mornings has the smallest deficit margin in viewers with ABC’s Good Morning America since the 2017-18 season and the tightest margin in A25-54 ever.

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