The upcoming Senate runoff election in Georgia will yield significant political advertising revenue for broadcast groups in the state, though the total is expected to fall short of the haul seen in a similar Georgia runoff less than two years ago.
Kantar Media Intelligences Inc. estimates runoff spending this year will reach between $100 million and $125 million across Georgia media, including broadcast, cable, satellite and radio outlets. As of Nov. 14, Kantar estimated that $11 million in fresh political spending had been allocated by the candidates and their supporters, just days after it became apparent that the Georgia Senate race would advance to a runoff.
There are a number of variables that make it difficult to directly compare the 2022 runoff to the one that originally propelled incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock to office in early 2021, said Steve Passwaiter, Kantar's vice president and general manager for North America. For one, the runoff features a single race this time, with Warnock looking to fend off Republican challenger Herschel Walker, versus two previously. It also will take place on a more compressed timeline: This year's runoff election is set for Dec. 6, less than a month after Election Day. In 2020, Georgia's Senate candidates had nine weeks to campaign between Election Day on Nov. 3, 2020, and the Jan. 5, 2021 runoff election.
More importantly, Passwaiter said the stakes are not nearly as high this time around given that control of the Senate is already decided. Kantar estimated that the two Georgia Senate runoffs in 2020-21 generated some $525 million in political ad spending across the different media outlets. At that time, it was not clear which party would hold power in the Senate chamber until after the Georgia races were settled. It remains to be seen how much enthusiasm voters and donors will bring to the races this time.
Whatever the ultimate outlays, Gray Television Inc. will be the biggest beneficiary of this year's runoff, said Peter Leitzinger, an analyst for Kagan, a media research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence.
Gray's Georgia network roster includes seven full-power stations with four CBS (US) affiliates, one ABC (US) affiliate and one NBC (US), as well as an independent.
Leitzinger said the Atlanta Metro area, which accounts for over half of the state's population and has trended Democratic, will likely attract the most spending.
Gray TV reported on its third-quarter earnings call that it tallied $58 million in political ad revenue from the two 2020-21 Georgia Senate runoff campaigns.
Kantar's Passwaiter noted that Gray's Georgia footprint is stronger now than it was then. Gray acquired WAKN, a CBS affiliate in Atlanta, as part of its purchase of Meredith Corp.'s TV stations in May 2021.
Outside of Macon, Gray has a presence in nearly every major Georgia market: Columbus, Albany, Augusta and Savannah. In addition, two straddle the state lines with Florida (Tallahassee-Thomasville) and South Carolina (Greenville-Spartanburg).
In addition to WAKN, Gray owns WPCH, the independent channel known as Peachtree TV, and WKTB, the Telemundo (US) affiliate, in Atlanta.
Kevin Latek, Gray's chief legal and development officer, said in an email that the company is unable to estimate potential political ad revenue for the current runoff. However, the company presumes it will be less than the 2020 cycle's contribution.
Fox Corp.'s owned-and-operated WAGA and Cox Media Group Inc.'s WSB, an ABC affiliate, are two other Atlanta stations that should benefit from spending behind the current runoff, according to Passwaiter. Officials at the two stations did not return calls by press time.
TEGNA Inc. owns the other Big Four station serving Atlanta, NBC-affiliate WXIA.
TEGNA and Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., which also operates a number of stations serving markets in Georgia, did not respond to queries seeking comment about their potential ad revenue gains from the runoff.
Perry Sook, the chairman and CEO of Nexstar Media Group Inc., the nation's largest operator of TV stations, said on its third-quarter earnings call on Nov. 8 that if there were a Georgia Senate runoff, it would have an incremental impact on Nexstar's stations in Savannah, Augusta and Columbus.