CNN Uses Democratic Debate To Hook Movie Ads

CNN is hoping its coverage of hopefuls for the top seat in Washington helps it do more business with Hollywood.

The Time Warner-owned cable-news outlet is seeing increased demand from movie studios to advertise in its Tuesday-night telecast of the first debate among  Democratic candidates for the run for the U.S. Presidency. The event, hosted by CNN and Facebook and moderated by Anderson Cooper, is set to be broadcast this evening between 8:30 p.m. and 11 p.m.

During the 2012 debates it hosted, the network would notch two or three movie advertisers, said Katrina Cukaj, executive vice president of ad sales for CNN. In CNN’s 2015 broadcast of a Republican debate, eight studios advertised, and seven are expected to make a pitch this evening, she said. The movie category will represent the biggest  in tonight’s broadcast and was also the largest advertising category in CNN’s September Republican debate broadcast.

“Movie studios love the big, live events and the attraction that they have,” Cukaj said. And while CNN typically lures advertisers from the automotive, technology, pharmaceutical and financial-services fields, she said, movie promotion “has not been our biggest category.” To drum up interest, CNN has touted internal findings using Meeting Street Research that show 96% of viewers recalled at least one film ad during the recent Republican debate broadcast and the following post-show.

Despite the glitzy advertiser interest, CNN is charging less money for a 30-second ad in the Democratic debate than it did in the Republican one, according to executives familiar with the situation. A 30-second ad in tonight’s event costs around $100,000, according to a media-buying executive. In comparison, a 30-second spot in the Republican debate broadcast on CNN cost around $200,000, executives said. The average cost of a primetime ad on CNN typically runs a couple of grand, somewhere between $4,000 and $6,000, according to ad buyers.

The simple fact is that past Democratic debates have not generated outsize ratings. Broadcasts of Democratic debates on ABC in 2008 and 2007, respectively, snared about 10.7 million viewers and 9.4 million viewers, according to Nielsen data. On cable, the most-watched Democratic debate in recent years – a January, 2008, broadcast on CNN – snared an average of around 8.3 million viewers.

In contrast, CNN’s recent September Republican debate lured an average of 22.9 million viewers, according to Nielsen. And a Fox News Channel broadcast of a Republican debate in August won an average of 24 million viewers

A more reasonable expectation at this point in the cycle and given the lineup of candidates might be something more modest. An MSNBC broadcast of a Democratic debate in October of 2007 attracted an average of about 2.5 million viewers.

CNN is selling advertising packages around tonight’s event, according to executives familiar with the situation. Advertisers typically buy a set of four commercials: one in the event, one before it, one after it and one in ancillary inventory. A buyer familiar with negotiations suggested the package might cost around $200,000, but another person familiar with discussions suggested CNN was seeking as much as $400,000 for the advertising.

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