The increasingly expensive elections that play out across the country every two years are making stations look like a smart investment, with the revenue piling up each time a candidate says “I approve this message.”
Despite an array of digital alternatives and a rapidly transforming television business, 30-second commercials remain one of the most valuable tools of campaigns and political action committees. As Leslie Moonves, the chief executive of the CBS Corporation, which owns 29 stations, memorably said last year, “Super PACs may be bad for America, but they’re very good for CBS.”Indeed, while the law guarantees that candidates can buy time at the lowest available rate, this discount is not available to outside groups.
Next year’s midterm elections will be a boon to stations as well, and “2016 could be amazing,” said Mark Fratrik, the chief economist for BIA/Kelsey, a media research firm and consultancy.
Station owners have come to dread what they call “odd years,” like 2013, when there is little political spending. For stations blessed to be in swing states, political ads routinely represent a third of their overall ad revenue in election years.
For instance, WBNS, the highest-rated station in Columbus, Ohio, grossed about $50 million in advertising last year, of which at least $20 million was attributed to campaign spending. Columbus is the nation’s 32nd largest TV market.