Donald Trump received nearly $2 billion in free media exposure this past year, dwarfing his Republican rivals and more than doubling the attention paid to Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, according to tracking firm mediaQuant.
Trump received $1.9 billion in free, or "earned," media coverage, yet spent just $10 million on paid advertisements this election cycle. While Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich each spent more money than Trump on ads, the Republican candidates clocked in at $313 million, $204 million and $38 million in free media respectively.
The New York Times first reported Tuesday on Trump's "mammoth advantage in free media" using data provided by mediaQuant. In an interview with The Huffington Post, mediaQuant Chief Analytics Officer Paul Senatori discussed the firm's 2016 findings and comparisons between the candidates and major national and world figures.
Here's how it works: The Portland-based mediaQuant tracks mentions in over 20,000 English-language outlets for many boldface names, ranging from Pope Francis to Taylor Swift to everyone who ran (or considered running) for president in 2016. The company generates a current media rating for each person based on the quantity and quality of that exposure, ranging from 0 to 100.
In computing the value of earned media, mediaQuant runs the number of raw mentions through an algorithm assessing the tone of the coverage -- whether positive, negative or neutral -- and considers the media outlet's reach and its advertising rates.
Though mediaQuant doesn't break down how much free media a candidate has received on, say, CNN or in The New York Times, Senatori said the majority of the value computed comes from television and top-tier publications with a national or global footprint. Given smaller ad rates, a candidate would need a substantial number of tweets before that social media attention translated into significant free media dollars.
While many of the other 2016 candidates plateaued and later dipped in terms of their earned media this election cycle, Senatori said that Trump, currently with a 98 rating, never faded from headlines around the world.
"He has consistently maintained high ratings and media values across all media segments, social and traditional, and it hasn’t ebbed at all," Senatori said.
Thanks to Trump's ability to drive ratings and generate controversy, as well as his unmatched accessibility -- notably by phone -- TV networks have covered the candidate nonstop since he entered the race last summer. Numerous rallies and press conferences have been aired live, while sexist and bigoted remarks typically result in a flurry of TV interviews. After canceling a rally Friday night, Trump dominated cable news by calling into CNN, MSNBC and Fox News for a total of 48 minutes in under an hour.
According to mediaQuant, the Republican front-runner has received far more free media coverage than Clinton, who has $746 million, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has $321 million.
What's striking in digging through mediaQuant's data is how well top-tier 2016 contenders stack up against other world leaders and some of the biggest names in sports and entertainment.
For example, Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West received $497 million, $250 million and $234 million in free media, respectively, over the past year. Athletes like recently retired NFL quarterback Peyton Manning and Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry came in with $29 million and $15 million, respectively.
Senatori pointed out that 2016 candidates, unlike even major cultural figures, have benefited from heavy and sustained coverage.
"A dynamic in the election sector is the consistent and continuous coverage," Senatori said in an email. "Celebrities, athletes and commercial brands tend to spike on episodal or event-based coverage, i.e. awards, divorces, album release, MVP announcement, quarterly earnings, etc. Trump and Cruz are enjoying a 8+ month non-stop media 'event.'"
"At the end of the month," he said, referring to when mediaQuant reports its analytics, "that media firehose really adds up."
Trump and a few other 2016 candidates have topped world figures like Russian President Vladimir Putin ($229 million) and the pope ($128 million).
But while Trump currently enjoys a higher media rating than President Barack Obama, who has a score of 91, mediaQuant found that the current president still leads all would-be successors in earned media this past year, with $2.58 billion.