Thanks largely to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's high-profile campaign to hang on to his seat in November, KSNV Las Vegas was one of the many stations around the country to enjoy a political advertising windfall. To make amends to regular advertisers who were shoved around to make room for the TV campaigners, says GM Lisa Howfield, the NBC affiliate is now offering a "local political rate card" discount to them. "We're trying to issue our own stimulus package."
Making Up With Non-Political Advertisers
In Las Vegas, where the economic downturn hit with a particular vengeance, the November election was a terrific shot in the arm for TV stations.
But businesses that were used to using television to get their message across had a bad time. They were virtually forced off the air in October, when the political mud-slinging, particularly between Democrat incumbent Sen. Harry Reid and Republican challenger Sharron Angle, got really fierce.
Because of Reid’s position as Senate Majority Leader and Angle’s as a darling of the Tea Party, that race drew extreme attention — and advertising.
Consider this: According to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, in a study it conducted for CNN, during the second week in October alone campaign ads ate up 3,010 minutes of time on Vegas stations. That’s more than 50 hours. In just one week.
Angle spent $31.2 million on her losing effort; Reid spent $24.9 million to win. Less dramatic millions were spent electing Republican Brian Sandoval governor of Nevada over Reid’s son, Rory.
KSNV, the NBC affiliate in Las Vegas, was one of the principal beneficiaries, according to General Manager Lisa Howfield.
To give you an idea how good things were for KSNV, she says, the station’s October ad revenues were 23% better than 2008, which was a presidential election year, and a stunning 300% higher than October 2009.
At the low end of the rate card, KSNV got $1,200 for ads that once sold for $250.
What advertisers — and Howfield — didn’t recognize is how wide the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court last January would open the political advertising floodgates.
“For the most part, our [regular] advertisers were very understanding and we were very fortunate,” she says. “I’m not going to tell you they were all thrilled with it. There were some advertisers who were very upset with us. Some of them said, ‘Well, you must have seen this coming.’ No way did we see this coming.”
Like other stations, KSNV loaded up ads in newscasts, adding 3.5-minute commercial breaks to try to fit everybody in. Howfield would get scowls in the newsroom when she tweaked them about their “13-minute newscasts.”
It was great for the regular advertisers who could get on, Howfield says. “You’d be watching and you’d see an ad for an attorney and you’d cheer. Oh, wow, an attorney! Yea! Look an auto dealer with cars for sale! Or, oh, yeah, let’s go buy that furniture.”
Most advertisers are aware how the law requires stations to give best rates and consideration to candidates for federal office, even though most well-heeled campaigns will spend anything to get on the air.
Howfield is trying to make it up to the regular advertisers, and also prop up what in any economy would be the advertising doldrums of January.
Next month, advertisers will enjoy the typical first-quarter discount, plus an added “local political rate card” discount, to entice them to advertise.
“It’s not to make light of what was going on with our regular advertisers during the month of October,” Howfield says. “To be quite honest with you, for us it was a strong dose of vitamin C. The political ads were good for our business. That doesn’t mean a whole lot to our [regular] advertisers, though, so we’re trying to issue our own stimulus package.”
The January “political rate card” idea is at once a gimmick, an opportunity, an olive branch to advertisers … and a warning. Howfield is not sure how long it will be before the political ads come again.
The new Congress is going to be a fractious bunch, filled with tea and vinegar; Nevada’s legislature, which meets only once every other year, is in session in 2011 and will be dealing with a state deficit in the billions, no doubt causing special interests to advertise to keep (or kill) funding for state programs.
Howfield thinks there’s a good chance political spending will be greater than usual in the off year if special interest groups decide to spend big to sell their positions to the state legislature and the public. The same is true in other states hard hit by the economy.
If that wasn’t enough, 2012 is close at hand. If past is prelude, political spending will be insane and local advertisers better realize it now so they can plan accordingly. As it looks now, many of them will get closed out again, even more solidly.
“You hate to scare advertisers,” Howfield says. “But you don’t want to paint an unrealistic picture either.”
Market Share by P.J. Bednarski, all about TV sales and TV sales people, appears every other week in TVNewsCheck. Bednarski is longtime TV reporter and a former top editor at TV Week and B&C. If you have comments on this column or ideas for future ones, contact him at [email protected] Read earlier Market Share columns here.