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Political campaigns are watching you watch TV

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Politics,David M. Drucker,Campaigns,PennAve,Television,Technology,Data Mining,PoliticsToday

It's not just Nielsen. Now political campaigns are keeping tabs on what you watch, too.

New technology being used by Democratic and Republican campaigns enables political data-mining firms to track the viewing habits of cable and satellite television subscribers.

That information, collected by Rentrak Corp. of Portland, Ore., is being matched with other political and consumer information held by political data firms.

That has allowed campaign organizations such as President Obama’s 2012 re-election team to buy advertising time during TV programs that are heavily watched by the types of voters they want to influence.

When matched against the subscriber rolls of DirecTV and Dish Network, Rentrak’s technology allows a campaign to target specific TV ads to specific households regardless of which programs those households might be viewing at any given time.

This latest innovation was reported by the Los Angeles Times on Aug. 19. The Republican-friendly data firm i360 is one of a handful of digital strategy companies on both sides of the political aisle that uses Rentrak technology.

Michael Palmer, president of i360, said Rentrak’s capabilities and its deal with DirecTV and Dish Network, the nation’s best-known satellite TV providers, has significantly improved the ability of campaigns to micro-target voters.

"While Nielsen might say: ‘Here's how popular 'NCIS' versus CNN versus the 'Today Show' is," Palmer explained, "I can now, through the Rentrak ratings, say: ‘Just among swing voters, or just amongst Republican base voters, what are the most popular TV shows?’ "

The way i360 uses this capability, the Arlington, Va., firm does not give clients the ability to target TV ads to the homes of individual voters. Rather, it allows clients to target households whose registered or unregistered voters fall into specific demographic “buckets.”

In a statewide Senate campaign, a candidate might pay DirecTV and Dish Network to target a specific ad at all the subscribers who are classified in their voter files as “independent voters.” The ad is scheduled to run while they are watching TV, as opposed to reserving time for the spot to run during a specific program.

This level of micro-targeting not only improves the potential for more accurate ad placement, it can lower the cost of TV advertising.

As the Obama campaign discovered in 2012, some of the most highly prized groups of voters were watching programs that were not highly rated. That allowed the campaign to get a better return on its investment by avoiding the high cost of advertising on programs with high Nielsen ratings.

Whether Democrat or Republican, the political digital firms that provide the most effective voter information are collecting mountains of data on all Americans age 18 and over regardless of whether they are registered to vote.

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Author:

David M. Drucker

Senior Congressional Correspondent
The Washington Examiner

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