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Madison TV stations made nearly $30 million off political ads in 2012

July 27, 2013

By Jack Craver 

Madison television stations made a killing off last year’s never-ending election season. A Capital Times review of the stations’ public files shows that the four Madison stations that feature local programming brought in over $28 million in revenue from political advertisements in 2012.

In Wisconsin, 2012 was particularly lucrative because of the gubernatorial recall election in June, a traditionally slow time of the year for TV stations.

WISC-TV Channel 3, the highest-rated station in the market, led the pack with $9.8 million in revenue. NBC 15 came in second with nearly $8 million, trailed closely by WKOW-TV Channel 27 with $7.5 million. Fox 47, by far the smallest of the four, brought in a cool $2.7 million.

A recent New York Times article detailed how large media companies are seeking to buy local TV stations in swing states like Wisconsin precisely because of their ability to bring in massive amounts of political revenue in presidential election years.

Here’s one observation the Times may have gotten wrong, however:

“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.’”

Actually, ads that end with such disclaimers didn’t bring in nearly the money for Madison TV stations as spots run by third-party groups. Roughly two-thirds of all the money spent came from “issue advocacy” groups such as Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and partisan groups like the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Third-party spending was particularly dominant in favor of Republicans. For instance, while the Romney campaign spent $1.2 million in the Madison market, the Super PAC supporting him, Restore Our Future, spent roughly $3.7 million on his behalf. In contrast, the Obama campaign, which spent $2.7 million in the Madison market, vastly overshadowed its Super PAC ally, Priorities USA, which only spent $850,000.

But while Obama and Priorities USA earned a reputation for making cheap but effective media buys, the strategy of progressive forces during the recall campaign was anything but effective. Read more at the Cap Times.

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