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TV stations reap benefits of political advertising

Mississippi politicians spending a record amount of money on television advertising in October helped metro area station managers meet their annual budgets.

“It was the difference between a disappointing year and making the budget, so we feel good,” said Stuart Kellogg, president and general manager of WAPT-TV, the ABC affiliate in Jackson. “We certainly set a record for this station, with revenues just about doubling four years ago.”

Dan Modisett, general manager of WLBT-TV, the NBC affiliate in Jackson, said the candidates who spent the most money on television advertising won their elections.

“It was really interesting to see that happen,” he said.

Ron Romines, general sales manager of WJTV-TV, the CBS affiliate in Jackson, said the 2003 political season easily surpassed activity levels in the 1999 and 2002 campaigns. “While the general election experienced tremendous activity and surpassed spending estimates, it should also be noted that the primary election fell well short of estimates,” he added. “This, of course, was due to the major candidates running without strong primary opposition.”

Ted Rudolph, general manager of WUFX/WDBD/WXMS-TV, said political advertising increased 30% from four years ago, even though the Fox affiliate in Jackson does not air a local newscast — a favorite political time slot.

“The politicians were mainly looking for sports programming on our Fox station,” he said.

Even though television-advertising statistics for Gov.-elect Haley Barbour`s campaign were unavailable by press time, Lisa McMurray, campaign director for Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, said of the campaign`s total $8.2 million budget, a little more than half was spent on television advertising in-state and in Memphis markets.

“The two well-financed candidates —Barbour and Musgrove — spent quite a bit of money,” said Modisett.

About one-third of all television advertising in October was political, which created a conundrum of appeasing candidates without offending regular clients, said Modisett.

“We could have sold many more political ads, but we reserved time to take care of our regular local clients who are going to be here after the election,” he said. “There was a real balancing act that required a lot of inventory management and planning to accommodate all the candidates and give them exposure, but not completely shut out our local clients so that they could continue conducting their business as well.”

Early third quarter was definitely an important revenue period, said Romines.

“While we were pacing against heavy political activity from last October, we were still able to post nice gains,” he said. “These nice gains will definitely help us achieve our objectives this year.”

The print media industry was displeased that television, by far, captured the lion`s share of political advertising dollars.

“Television has become an integral part of the political process,” said Modisett, who reported a 90% increase in spending by candidates during October. “Candidates have to get a message across to a large number of people in a short period of time and it`s the next best thing to knocking on your door.”

Because advertising rates are set by television ratings, and viewership trends have shifted in the last four years, it`s difficult to make an apples-to-apples comparison to 1999, said Kellogg.

“Our ratings are much higher now than they were four years ago,” he said.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) governs the amount television stations charge for political advertising, said Modisett.

“Political candidates get a break on the pricing, so they can get more commercials,” he said. “It`s what we refer to as the golden rule: he who has the gold makes the rules. And they make the rules for themselves.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at mbj@thewritingdesk.com.


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