TV Stations Can't Afford To Reject Political Ads

Imagine if local TV stations -- so dependent on every-other-year political advertising -- did what Twitter just promised: ban political advertising.

Federal regulations prevent this for TV stations. Over-the-air broadcast TV stations are required to accept ads from candidates for federal offices.

But stations do not have to accept state or local candidates’ advertising. And as media executives have noted, candidates can buy commercials at the lowest rates in the “class” of time they purchase.

For non-local TV stations, it’s a different ballgame -- especially if the political advertising is untruthful. Witness one recent occurrence when CNN rejected a President Trump commercial because of false advertising.

Twitter doesn’t want to get into the vetting business of deciding what political ads to run.

Local TV stations (and TV networks overall) have a somewhat easier time in sifting through the good, bad, ugly, and untrue ad messages for core consumer brand advertisers. Federal law says advertising -- on the Internet, radio or television, or anywhere else  -- must be truthful, not misleading, and when appropriate, backed by scientific evidence.



For TV, this vetting isn't perfect, but easier. A TV station might air several hundred individual messages per day. Twitter and Facebook? They may be looking at exponentially more political commercials.

Word is the White House is unhappy about Twitter putting the kibosh on political advertising -- calling it a “mistake.” President Trump can continue to send out his missives by tweet -- with or without confirmation of the truth -- as he wishes.

Next year, local TV stations look to benefit from another record amount of political advertising. Estimates are TV stations could reap a collective $3 billion to $4 billion from the 2020 presidential campaign season.

This is a far cry from what Twitter and Facebook are estimated to get. Currently, Twitter political advertising amounts to 0.3% of its annual advertising and about 0.5% for Facebook, according to CNBC. This would equate to around $10 million for Twitter, $200 million for Facebook.

But for TV stations? It has become a necessary revenue stream. Pulling $5 billion in political advertising revenue could represent an estimated 20% to 23% of their entire annual advertising take next year, which could be $20 billion to $22 billion in total.

What if TV stations were as bold as Twitter -- in the areas where they could cutback on political advertising? All hell would break loose. Supporters of complete freedom of speech, TV stations shareholders and investors would turn the local TV stations industry upside down.

But with the veracity of political advertising being increasingly challenged, perhaps we have moved to another level.

1 comment about "TV Stations Can't Afford To Reject Political Ads".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, November 4, 2019 at 9:31 a.m.

    Which raises some interesting questions, Wayne. For example what happens if a local political candidate creates a commercial which defames an opponent or his/her family and also ridicules the station's own news department--- or even specific anchors and reporters--- as being biased in favor of the other side ----or just plain stupid? Will the station air such an announcement? Will it run it in the same news show that is the target of the ad's ire? The way things are developing on the political scene, such ads are increasingly commonplace---the new normal-----and it may be in their quest for the all mighty buck---that stations will have to take this kind of advertising---perhaps adding strongly worded disclaimers or rebuttals about themselves---which, in turn, may annoy the politicians as this could be seen as the station taking sides. I suspect that we are heading for some type of governmental ( FCC? )regulation on these issues  which may eventually limit or curtail what can be said in political ads generally. Whether that's a good or bad thing I'm not certain.

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