Let the Games Begin

2/26/2010 3:08:13 PM

The election cycle this year is starting out-perhaps suitably-ironically. The 2010 elections and related campaign spending are expected to generate record amounts of revenue for broadcasters. Analysts are pegging the number at more than $2 billion for broadcast TV, a record for an off-year election. TV stations are already benefiting from the mere notion. Except for at least two that have nothing to gain from analyst predictions, ad revenues and the resulting access to capital.

Both are PBS member stations that provided airtime for candidate debates. Both have been either sued or threatened with such by those not included in those debates.

WTTW-TV in Chicago became the object of an FCC complaint from Jacob Meister, a candidate for the Illinois Senate seat vacated by President Obama. Mr. Meister claimed that he was left out of the televised debate because he is openly gay. WTTW said he was left out of the debate because his poll numbers showed fewer than 5 percent of voters supported him. Mr. Meister subsequently dropped out of the race and endorsed the man who won.

The race in Chicago actually had far more intrigue, at least in the press, but it is Chicago and there is precedent upon which to stand.

Yet another precedent has perhaps been set due south in Texas, where four gubernatorial candidates are suing KERA-TV for a whopping $400 million for not being invited to a televised debate.

That's roughly 26 times what the station's budget was in 2008, or 133.8 million coffee mugs. On one hand, it's offensive when one considers what the people at that TV station probably take home at the end of the day; and on the other, the sum is flatly absurd. Was this somehow going to be the Super Bowl of gubernatorial debates? KERA itself says it reaches 2.5 million people a week. That implies KERA's audience is worth more, per viewer, than the 51.7 million folks who took in Super Bowl XLIV on CBS.

Who are these PBS-addicted Texans and what don't they understand about my personal willingness to accept donations? And who advised the four insulted candidates it would be a good idea to sue a PBS member station for $400 million? Is there a place where this inspires confidence in judgment?

There's eight more months of this to go. I expect a summer season reality show.


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