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Balancing Bias in Broadcast News

March 14th, 2017   ||    by Monta Monaco Hernon   ||    No Comments

My 85-year-old father recently bemoaned that in his younger days he felt he could trust the broadcast news, but no longer felt this to be the case. The public squabbling between President Donald Trump and the media hasn’t helped, of course, but for many (my father included) it was the 2016 election that highlighted the growing perception of media bias.

Political leanings aside, advertisers must be cognizant of the unique challenges in today’s TV environment, as well as the alternatives offered by trusted sources like local TV.

Looking Between the Lines

Heading into the 2016 election, Americans were already skeptical about whether they’d get straight, unbiased news about the candidates and the issues. In May 2015, Rasmussen Reports found that 61 percent of likely voters did not trust political news, and 59 percent believed reporters would slant coverage.

In the aftermath of Trump’s victory, that doesn’t seem to have changed—regardless of party affiliation. BBC News cataloged the expressions of shock from major global media organizations over the election results. Trump reportedly tore apart bigwig network execs during a closed-doors meeting right after the election, calling “everyone” at CNN a “liar,” according to this Business Insider piece. Even prime-time newscasters are now pushing back on statements from White House spokespeople, as The Week reported.

Pew Research looked at the average viewers of various media organizations and found Fox News drew mainly a conservative audience, while the likes of CNN and MSNBC tended to draw liberals. Not totally surprising, as this is more or less in line with public perception of the networks. But how can advertisers effectively navigate the stormy seas of public perception, without harming their brand?

Branded Politics

The Journal of Marketing Research holds that certain products are identified with certain political leanings. Products that are considered “green,” like the Toyota Prius, are associated with the left, while a more traditionally “American” Chevy truck might appeal more to the right. While this article addresses newspapers specifically, it follows that if networks cater to certain political sides, advertisers will gravitate to those networks with audiences most likely to purchase their products. The authors of the report go so far as to suggest that media outlets might actually polarize in order to attract more, or more specific, advertisers—an interesting supposition, no?

It follows that if advertisers know the political bent of an audience, they can tailor their messages creatively to address issues important or attractive to those viewers, this Brick Factory blog post notes. Advertising on politically charged programming can also lead to negative feelings toward a product from those with opposing viewpoints, but the post said this becomes less of a concern the more audiences gravitate toward news programs thought to hold similar opinions to their own.

Out-Campaigning the Campaign

Political assumptions can be factored into the data used in automated TV buying, incidentally. By helping advertisers determine who’s watching, and where, the technology also aids in finding the viewers best suited to a particular product or line of creative messaging.

While broadcast news is seen as increasingly biased, local stations are still listed as a trusted source of information—beating out both online and printed media. Such stations offer a sense of community through broadcasting local stories and by dependably offering valuable information during times of crisis. The goodwill garnered by these stations is thought to carry over to the advertisers that support the programming (much as the reputed bias of broadcast news can carry over to those ads). It’s another consideration for brands approaching TV, and another important application for the targeting capabilities offered by automated TV platforms.

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