Presidential Debate Money: $50.4 Million from Ads

The networks will make $50.4 million in presidential debate money in 2016. Does that cash legitimize Trump’s demand for $5 million from CNN? The networks don’t currently pay candidates for presidential debates.

That said, both Clinton and Trump will continue to make healthy earnings while the debates air.

Presidential Debate Money Facts

Presidential Debate Money Facts
Presidential debate money earned by networks$50,400,000
Potential presidential debate money if networks aired ads during debates$504,000,000
Presidential debate money paid to candidates from networks$0
Presidential debate money paid to candidates by their campaigns$900
Money earned by Trump's empire during the presidential debates$326,370
Money earned by Hillary Clinton during the debates (based on her average salary)$10,274
Money demanded by Trump from CNN for Republican presidential debates (not paid)$5,000,000

The table above shows the top line presidential debate money info. All together, the networks will generate ad revenue of $50.4 million for all four presidential debates. That money could have hit half a billion if ads had aired during the debates themselves. As it is, ads only play during the pre and post debate analysis. Candidates don’t get any of that money but they can earn about $900 in campaign salary during their actual time spent speaking. Trump also continues to make nearly half a billion a year from his real estate empire no matter what he does. That works out to $1.3 million a day or $54,000 per hour. By that logic, he’ll make $326,370 in the six hours of total TV debate time. Hillary Clinton will earn about a 30th of that or $10,274 during the same span.

presidential-debate-money-from-adsPresidential Debate Money from Ratings: $50.4 Million

How much presidential debate money do networks get from ad revenue? $50.4 million according to the analysis below. The networks don’t air ads during the 90-minute debates themselves. To see how much money they could make from ad revenue if they did play in-debate ads, see the section below on potential ad money. As it stands, the networks charge a reported $225,000 for a 30-second ad in the pre-debate warmup. The same rate goes for the post-debate analysis. An average one-hour block of prime time TV contains 14 minutes of ads. Assuming a total of two hours of pre/post debate programming, the networks can sell 56 ads at the $225,000 rate for a total of $12.6 million. Since there are four debates, the networks will take in an estimated $50.4 million in debate money by the end of October.

Presidential Debate Money from Ratings
Cost of 30 second commercial in pre/post debate programming$225,000
Number of hours of pre/post debate programming2
Total 30 second ads in pre/post debate programming56
Total presidential debate money from ads$50,400,000

Also see: How Much Money Will Trump Earn During the Presidential Debates?

Trump Wanted $5 Million for Presidential Debates

Candidates don’t get any presidential debate money from the networks. At the start of his campaign in late 2015, Donald Trump demanded $5 million from CNN to appear in the Republican debates. Trump observed during a stump speech in Georgia that the first debate drew in 23 million viewers for the network. He said that was the biggest audience for a debate in history. The candidate promised to donate the money to the Wounded Warrior project for injured veterans. CNN’s Jeff Zucker declined the offer, saying the network doesn’t pay candidates to show up at debates.

Presidential Debate Money from Salary: $900

One somewhat surprising source of presidential debate money is campaign salary. According to rules set down by the Federal Election Commission, candidates for public office are allowed to pay themselves a salary from their campaign funds. The salary can’t exceed their income from the previous year or the salary of the job they’re applying for. They have to settle for the smallest of the two figures, which means the $400,000 U.S. President salary for both Trump and Clinton. Candidates don’t have to take the salary and there’s no way of knowing whether either of them has. For the sake of argument, let’s assume both Trump and Clinton take the salary.

There are 2,000 hours in a typical work year. Campaigning is anything but typical, but using that 2,000 hour figure gives both Trump and Clinton $200 an hour for campaigning. The four debates take up a total of six hours of air time. However, since Mrs. Clinton has said she prepares for the debates and Trump says he doesn’t, there’s an additional factor to consider. Estimating that Clinton preps for 10 hours for each debate gives her an extra 40 hours of debate-related salary over Trump. By that logic, Hillary Clinton will earn $9,200 in presidential debate money from her campaign salary, while Trump will earn only $1,200 from his.

Presidential Debate Money from Candidate Salary
Amount each candidate's campaign can pay them in salary$400,000
Hours in a typical work year2,000
Hourly pay for presidential candidate$200
Hours of presidential debates6
Estimate of hours Hillary Clinton prepared for debates40
Hours Donald Trump prepared for debates0
Hillary Clinton salary pay for debates$9,200
Donald Trump salary pay for debates$1,200

Related: Hillary Clinton Net Worth

Presidential Debate Money from “Regular” Earnings

The table below shows the presidential debate money each candidate will earn in the background according to average salary. Trump earns $476 million a year on average, while Clinton earns $15 million.

Trump and Clinton Regular Income
Money Made Per Year$476,500,000$15,000,000
Per Day$1,305,479$41,096
Per Hour$54,395$1,712

The table below starts with Trump and Clinton’s average hourly pay, then figures their presidential debate money. The idea is that the debates take six hours. During that time, Trump will earn $326,370 while Clinton will earn $10,274. Trump earned $476 million last year based on his federal Personal Financial Disclosure (PFD) documents while Clinton earned $15 million. Those numbers are far from exact, since PFD’s are based on a wide range of reported figures. Muddying the numbers still further, Clinton’s $15 million average salary comes mostly from her speaking fees. Since she hasn’t been earning those in 2016, her real pay during the debates will likely be much lower.

Clinton and Trump Debate Money
DateTimeDuration (Minutes)
September 267:00 PM90
October 97:00 PM90
October 197:00 PM90
Total Time (hrs)6
Hillary Clinton Pay Per Hour$1,712
Donald Trump Pay Per Hour$54,395
Clinton Debate Money Made$10,274
Trump Debate Money Made$326,370

Related: Donald Trump Net Worth

Potential Presidential Debate Money: Half a Billion

presidential-debate-moneyThe networks could earn half a billion in presidential debate money if they ran ads during the debates themselves. The table below shows the cost of a 30-second commercial from several big TV events. According to AdAge, a single 30-second spot on The Walking Dead costs $400,000. That show gets about 14 million viewers on a good day. A similar ad during The Big Bang Theory costs $344,000. That show gets about 17 million viewers.

A 30-second ad during the Super Bowl cost $5 million in 2016. The Super Bowl gets around 124 million viewers. Granted, Super Bowl ads are a different animal. They don’t just get watched once. They get shared around on social media, talked about at the office and gushed about in blog posts and news shows. A similar ad in an NCAA Championship game costs $1.5 million. Those games pull in around 21 million viewers. From all the above numbers, we can make a good best-guess estimate at the cost of a half-minute ad spot during one of the presidential debates. Consider that the first Clinton/Trump debate in September of 2016 drew in 84 million viewers according to Nielsen. That’s four times the draw of one of the hit shows we mentioned above and almost 70% of the viewership of a Super Bowl. Based on that data, a rough estimate of $3 million for a 30 second debate ad is reasonable.

An average hour of TV crams in 14 minutes of ads. In a 90 minute debate, that’s 21 minutes or 42, 30-second ads. By our math above, that’s $126 million in ad revenue for one debate. Multiplied by four, that would be $504 million for all four debates. So why do the networks leave this potential presidential debate money on the table? It’s unclear whether the Commission on Presidential debates prohibits commercial breaks, but it’s likely. It’s doubtful the networks would leave that kind of money on the table if they didn’t absolutely have to.

Potential Presidential Debate Money from Ratings
Cost of 30 second commercial during "The Walking Dead"$400,000(14 million viewers)
Cost of 30 second commercial during "The Big Bang Theory"$344,827(17 million viewers)
Cost of 30 second commercial during the Super Bowl$5,000,000(124 million viewers)
Cost of 30 second commercial during an NCAA Championship Game$1,500,000(21 million viewers)
Potential cost of 30 second commercial during a presidential debate$3,000,000(84 million viewers)
Presidential debate length90 min
Average ads in an hour of TV14 min
Total ads in 1.5 hours of a presidential debate21 min
Total number of 30 second ads in a presidential debate42
Estimate of presidential debate money earned from ads by all networks$126,000,000
Ad money earned from all four presidential debates$504,000,000

Related: How Much Money Does Trump Make in a Year?