Political ad dollars pour into midstate television stations

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Mar 31, 2014 4:00 AM

(Harrisburg) -- As the days get closer to the primary election May 20th, television ads are airing more and more frequently, and this time of year is not easy for anyone.

There's the campaign managers and strategists who have to come up with the perfect ad.

There's the viewers, who get bombarded with ads throughout the day.

WGAL's General Manager John Humpries says there's the ad sales department itself, who has to try to keep the regular advertisers happy.

"So one of the challenges is to make sure that we don't neglect those people and their needs. They still need to sell cars and beds and whatever other service might be out there. They're still in business."

More money has been spent on ads on WGAL than both ABC 27 and CBS 21 combined - $396,974 (as of March 27).

Democrat Tom Wolf has far outspent the other candidates as well (about $350,000), topping every other Democrat's Governor Corbett's combined total.

State Treasurer Rob McCord and former DEP Secretary Katie McGinty have each spent about $140,000.

Congresswoman Alyson Schwartz does not have any ads airing yet.

"If we didn't have the political advertisers on, we'd be running the typical retail or service business. Or, each one of the TV stations in this market, the biggest customer is ourselves. We use the unsold time to promote our newscasts," says Humphries.

Humpries expects the ads will only ramp up as the calendar flips to April.

TV stations are required by law to give political candidates the best possible rate for each advertisement. Even though they might advertise for a couple weeks (or in this case, a couple months), they get the rate of a business that advertises every week on TV.

Humphries also pointed to the regulatory requirements as another challenge; each station has to file documentation with the FCC stating when each individual ad aired, and the differing rates charged. 

Political advertising, broadly defined, can include "interest ads", paid for by independent groups. In that case, those groups can be charged a higher rate.

In all political advertising, there is no "standard" rate for all TV ads - each station just has to charge the lowest rate. Stations are also required to provide equal access to both candidates and issues (like transportation, pension reform, or liquor privatization).

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