ANALYSIS: Cable TV’s $2.8 Million Donation to Donald Trump’s Campaign

We all know that Donald Trump is not running the ‘traditional’ campaign but, as an analysis conducted by 0ptimus reveals, the single biggest campaign contributor to Donald Trump is the media.

On one hand, the media have time and again mocked and criticized Mr. Trump and some of his more unorthodox policies/rhetoric. On the other, they unwittingly have taken on a role that is usually reserved for SuperPACs committing its resources and reach to provide Mr. Trump with free media and airtime. This is not a new observation, but we thought it worthwhile to quantify in hard-data just what this media contribution really looks like.

To better illustrate this, 0ptimus conducted an analysis of Donald Trump’s press conference for Monday (Feb 15th), during which he ‘took questions’ for more than 40 minutes. Three major cable television networks covered almost the entirety of this press conference live. Fox News was live for the first half of the press conference while CNN and MSNBC were live for the entire duration.

For any other campaign or candidate, such airtime and saturation can only be achieved through paid media. We can get a good approximation for the value of this time by looking at what it would cost to have bought comparable airtime on the same channel. For example, buying a 30-second ad spot on Fox News, nationwide, in the 2 p.m. ET time block would cost around $10,000. So if you wanted a minute of time, you’d have to pay $20,000. If a campaign wanted to buy 20 minutes of time (like Trump received during his press conference), the cost would be $400,000. Using this logic, we conclude that Trump was given airtime to push his message that was worth $1.01 million dollars during his press conference alone.


To put this in perspective, the very largest of the SuperPACs supporting candidates in this primary are rarely spending $1M dollars a day, if at all. But actually this $1M represents just a portion of the full value cable networks contributed to Trump on Monday.

0ptimus examined the extent to which cable TV “covered” the Trump press conference as a ‘news’ event for the rest of the evening. As the analysis revealed, this post-coverage actually represents the majority of the value that the cable channels donated to the Trump campaign. The chart below outlines coverage later that night of the press conference:


This post-coverage took many forms: Quick re-caps of the conference from reporters, soundbites from Trump’s major quotes, panel discussions of the conference, CNN even had Mr. Trump call-in live to discuss his 40-minute press conference. These were panels that were not discussing if Cruz or Bush or Kasich or Rubio were surging, they were instead once again talking about Trump and his main points. In any campaign, the most expensive costs are TV ads. As this final chart below illustrates, 0ptimus calculates that the free exposure Mr. Trump received from cable television on Monday alone is the equivalent of $2.8M dollars in free TV media.


Without question, Donald Trump’s single biggest contributors to his presidential aspirations are Fox News, CNN and MSNBC.

Scott Tranter Partner

Scott Tranter is one of the three founders of Øptimus a data and technology consultancy based in Washington D.C. Tranter and his team work as information architects, with a portfolio of work that includes TV targeting platforms, producing agile vote modeling processes and conducting in-cycle experiment informed programs. Tranter and his firm advise political campaigns...

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