Sunday, November 25, 2012
Political ads brought region's TV stations $27 million
The biggest winner in the Roanoke-Lynchburg market was WDBJ (Channel 7), which got $10.4 million.
The latest from our Blue Ridge Caucus politics blog
From The Roanoke Times
Political ad spending in the Roanoke-Lynchburg television market in 2012
- $10.4 million: WDBJ-TV (Channel 7)
- $6.6 million: WSLS-TV (Channel 10)
- $6.9 million: WSET-TV (Channel 13)
- $3.2 million: WWCW-TV/WFXR-TV (Channels 21/27)
- $27.1 million Total
Biggest campaign spenders
- $5.16 million: Obama For America
- $4.23 million: Romney for President
- $707,000: Kaine for Senate
- $509,000: Allen for Senate
Biggest political action committee spenders
- $3.4 million: Crossroads GPS (R)
- $2 million: American Crossroads (R)
- $2 million: Restore Our Future (Romney)
- $1.4 million: Americans For Prosperity (R)
- $1.2 million: Majority PAC (D)
- $1 million: Republican National Committee (R)
- $964,000: Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (D)
The unprecedented deluge of campaign commercials on local television left a massive cash windfall in its wake. Political groups spent more than $27 million this year in the Roanoke-Lynchburg television market, more than five times the amount spent here four years ago.
Virginia's swing-state status in the presidential election and the Supreme Court's 2010 decision to allow corporations and unions to spend freely on political ads resulted in massive amounts of political spending, according to the public files at the region's top four television stations.
Roanoke-Lynchburg, the 66th-largest TV market in the country, was ranked among the top 10 political advertising markets during most of the summer and fall, when the presidential campaigns, political action committees and other groups ratcheted up their spending.
"It was a phenomenal year," said Jeff Marks, president and general manager at Roanoke's WDBJ (Channel 7).
WDBJ earned the largest chunk of campaign spending, bringing in about $10.4 million. Lynchburg-based WSET (Channel 13) earned $6.9 million, Roanoke's WSLS (Channel 10) garnered $6.6 million and Roanoke-based WWCW/WFXR (Channels 21/27) brought in $3.2 million.
That adds up to about $27.1 million in revenue for the TV stations, money that was spent on an onslaught of political commercials -- most of them negative ads -- that seemed to air nonstop during local and national newscasts and the stations' syndicated programs.
Four years ago, a then-record $5.6 million was spent in the market during the presidential race. For perspective, WDBJ earned double that amount by itself this year, a campaign season highlighted by Barack Obama and Mitt Romney's race for the White House.
Things have changed since 2008. Most notably, the Supreme Court ruled in the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case that the government cannot prevent corporations and unions from spending unlimited amounts of money on political expenditures, as long as they do not coordinate with candidates.
That ruling led to the rise of super PACS, which spent freely on campaign ads. Nearly 40 politically affiliated groups bought TV time in the Roanoke-Lynchburg market this year.
The presidential campaigns were still the biggest individual spenders. Obama For America spent $5.16 million in Roanoke-Lynchburg, followed by Romney For President's $4.23 million.
Conservative super PACS more than made up the spending difference for Romney. Two super PACS headed by former George W. Bush political adviser Karl Rove -- American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS -- combined to spend about $5.4 million in this market.
Romney's own PAC, Restore Our Future, spent $2 million, and the Republican-leaning Americans For Prosperity spent $1.4 million.
The biggest-spending Democratic PAC was the Senate Majority PAC, which spent about $1.2 million in Roanoke-Lynchburg.
Most of the money spent here will go to the stations' corporate parents. However, quite a bit of money will be invested locally.
WDBJ has plans to buy a new satellite truck, which will cost a few hundred thousand dollars, and add reporters. WSLS renovated its news set and has hired staff. WSET has hired reporters and paid down some of its debt incurred when it converted to high-definition broadcasts.
Other beneficiaries of the cash influx might be some of the region's charitable organizations, which receive donations from media companies.
Marks said that WDBJ will increase its giving to organizations that include Opera Roanoke, the Science Museum of Western Virginia, the March of Dimes and The Jacksonville Center for the Arts in Floyd.
"Some of this money may help the people of Southwest Virginia," Marks said.
Other station managers were traveling during Thanksgiving week and could not be reached immediately for comment about their station's plans for the extra revenue.
The impact of all that campaign cash was mixed. Romney won most of Western Virginia's localities, running up large margins in the coalfields and rural counties. Obama won cities such as Roanoke, Radford, Covington, Lexington and Danville. Romney won one county, Montgomery, that had gone for Obama in 2008.
In the end, Obama's margins in heavily populated Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads earned the president the state's 13 electoral votes, as he won re-election Nov. 6.