Political Ads Represent Whopping Windfall For TV StationsPolitical Ads Represent Whopping Windfall F

May 16, 2002
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As far as election campaigns go, Decision 2000 was a landslide winner for West Michigan television stations.

In the biggest campaign advertising season ever, the West Michigan market shattered records for the most advertising dollars ever spent, exceeding previous highs by a whopping 300 percent. Campaign advertising generated revenues of $18 million, which was split among five players in the West Michigan market. The previous high netted $6 million in the market.

“It was pretty incredible,” WOOD TV8 President and General Manager Diane Kniowski said. “That’s a huge amount of money to make or break your year. We looked at the track record and we expected to be right there at our previous two best years.

“When it hit $18 million, it was everybody’s Christmas. It was like the knight in shining armor.”

That “knight” turned an otherwise dismal advertising season into a profitable one for all stations involved.

“Our percentage (of campaign revenues) was on par with what we have received in the past, but the total was up substantially because of our newscasts,” WXMI FOX-17 Vice President and General Manager Ed Fernandez said. Select FOX programs and sports programming also made the local FOX affiliate attractive for campaign advertising and offset relatively soft retail advertising in the quarter, according to Fernandez.

“It was not as strong of a fourth quarter from a pure advertiser standpoint, but the political advertising helped fill the void,” Fernandez said. “Normally with that type of activity on the political side, this market would have been tight as a drum early on.”

Of the $18 million spent on political advertising in the market, NBC-affiliate WOOD TV8, CBS-affiliate WWMT and ABC-affiliate WZZM TV13 each received a more than a than a 30-percent portion of the election campaign windfall. FOX-affiliate WXMI and WOOD sister station WOTV split the remaining revenues.

The presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore, the hotly contested race for the U.S. Senate between Debbie Stabenow and Spencer Abraham, an aggressive race for seats on the Michigan Supreme Court bench and the highly emotional Proposal 1 voucher issue were the biggest contributors to the campaign advertising coffers.

“The market definitely saw more political advertising than anyone anticipated,” WZZM TV13 general manager Janet Mason said. “It was due primarily because of Michigan being a swing state and the various issues of the campaign. The school voucher (proposal) brought a lot of dollars into state.”

A light Christmas season for retail advertising, a sharp drop off in automotive advertising and marked advertising cutbacks in the telecommunications industry contributed to softened retail sales.

“As far as retail goes, the fourth quarter results came in under what we expected,” Kniowski said. “The good news is that the political budget helped exceed it all.

“The challenge during a political year is that you only have the same amount of inventory, and usually your regular advertising business suffers. Actually, this year it was more like a replacement. It turned out to be a timely tradeoff.

“The challenge is delivering in 2001 without that kind of windfall. That’s going to be a big challenge.”           

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