Donald Trump is a well-documented TV news junkie. He namedrops shows and hosts he likes, and the topics of his morning and evening tweets highly correlate with the discussions taking place on specific news programs.
Former Gitmo detainee killed by a U.S. airstrike in Yemen; at least 122 former Gitmo detainees have re-engaged in terrorism pic.twitter.com/y9jb420fFZ— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) March 7, 2017
And 31 minutes later…
122 vicious prisoners, released by the Obama Administration from Gitmo, have returned to the battlefield. Just another terrible decision!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 7, 2017
But these shows don’t just have an effect on him. Since the election, many TV programs Trump favors have seen a boost in their ad rates. And in what may be a sign of the Trumpification of American discourse, some shows he pointedly disapproves of have seen their rates plummet.
In the two weeks before the Nov. 8 presidential election, a 30-second national spot on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" cost $2,000, according to media agency data obtained by Campaign US. Trump begins most mornings with the show (or at least he did until a few weeks ago). By the 1st Quarter of 2017, the price had jumped 38 percent, to $2,750.
While not a huge increase in raw dollars, just the fact that it didn’t decrease is impressive, said Robert Russo, president and CEO of RNR Media Consulting.
"Every four years when we have an election, there’s always an increased interest in watching those shows, and therefore there’s an increased cost effect related to it. Traditionally, the last two weeks or so after the election, it dies down and the cable ratings go back to what they were," said Russo. "Nobody ever watches cable news, collectively. But in this case, viewership is staying up, and in some cases increasing."
Fox’s "O’Reilly Factor," an evening favorite of Trump’s, also experienced an ad rate hike, rising 10 percent from $19,500 before the election to $21,500 in the 1st Quarter. The president’s new favorite show, "Fox and Friends," got a small 4 percent bump, from $2,400 to $2,500.
Even some Fox News shows that don’t rank among Trump’s favorites have seen positive results. Ad rates for "The Five" have jumped 8 percent since the election, from $5,100 to $5,500 for a 30-second spot. "The Trump phenomenon is continuing," Russo said. "Generally speaking, there are more Trump people than are willing to admit it, so I think you’re seeing a reflection of that in [the performance of] Fox News, even in CNN, headline news, morning news."
Indeed, cable news ratings across the board are higher than expected—down from the election-level highs of the fall, but considerably higher than the 1st Quarter of 2016. At the time of Trump’s inauguration, Fox News viewership was up 35 percent over January of last year. CNN was up 38 percent over the same time period, and MSNBC’s ratings had soared 53 percent. And signs indicate that trend is continuing. February 2017 numbers show CNN up 70 percent over Feb. 2016 and MSNBC up 99 percent. Fox News is hovering at 31 percent over the previous year, though it is still far and away the most watched basic cable network.
* programs Trump is reported to watch regularly
But not every news program is enjoying ad rates buoyed by ratings. Notably, ad rates for CBS’ "60 Minutes" are down 31 percent, plummeting from $94,000 to just $65,000. That’s despite counting Trump as a longtime fan—he reportedly DVRs it regularly and thinks it’s "awesome" to be interviewed by the news magazine.
Shows hosted by people Trump typically spars with, however, have seen ad rate slumps since the election. Prices for CNN’s "Anderson Cooper 360" are only down 2 percent since the election, from $12,950 for a 30-second spot to $12,700. But "Hardball with Chris Matthews" on MSNBC is down 30 percent, from $6,700 to $4,700.
The biggest drop, though, is MSNBC’s "The Rachel Maddow Show." According to media agency data, its ad rates have fallen precipitously since the election, down 42 percent, from $10,000 for a 30-second spot to $5,800. The dip might be short-lived though—Maddow is experiencing a ratings surge of late (even before she obtained part of Trump’s 2005 tax return). Viewership is at an eight-year high, and she even beat out ratings leader O’Reilly one week in early March.
Normally, ratings correlate pretty closely to ad rates. Want your ad to be seen by 19 million people at once? Be prepared to cough up nearly $300,000 for a 30-second placement during "The Big Bang Theory" on CBS. But cultural cachet and audience makeup are important, too. Fox’s "Empire" charges more than $400,000 to reach 7.5 million people. Sometimes, who you’re reaching is more important than how many people.
And for some advertisers, the most important viewer is an audience of one. Twice now, "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" has bought local cable news ads in the D.C. market specifically to catch the attention of the president.
The ads ran between 8:30 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. on Fox News, CNN and MSNBC, in what must have been a low budget buy. Even with its recent bump in price, morning cable news in a secondary market is cheap.
But advertisers or lobbyists looking for a path to Trump’s eyeballs should stick to shelling out cash on K Street—he’s not going to see those ads. According to several in-depth profiles, Donald Trump is a dedicated channel-flipper.