It’s that time of year again when those quadrennial events known as the national political conventions take place. Over the past several decades the conventions have morphed into heavily scripted advertisements, and actual “news” comes from increasingly rare unscripted moments. Broadcasters and other news organizations have rightly assessed the relevance of these events and have tailored (and cut back) their coverage accordingly. In this issue of TV Technology, we sidestep the content of the conventions and focus on how newscasters will stay in communication in an increasingly crowded RF environment (one that has been even more affected by the reduction in wireless spectrum availability since 2008). That’s the technology of TV.
I’d like to focus this particular screed on what is the bane of modern day political campaigns: the negative political ad. Yes, I know they’ve been around forever and the intensity and truthfulness of such ads have ebbed and flowed based on our country’s prevailing mood at the time; but this year promises an avalanche of negative ads the likes we have never seen, fueled by an evenly divided electorate and the Supreme Court’s 2010 “Citizens United” decision.
Apart from the campaign staffs, ad agencies and the Association of Voiceover Professionals, the only party I can think of that actually likes these ads is us—broadcasters, who will be the biggest financial beneficiaries of the onslaught. And with the FCC’s new rules requiring broadcasters to make political ad transactions public, the numbers show how influential our industry remains in today’s political campaigns. In the first week of August alone, according to a local Washington newspaper, one super PAC spent nearly $1 million at three local TV stations (Virginia being one of a handful of swing states where most of the political campaign dollars will be spent).
Some politicians are exploring different avenues to get their message across. Take Linda Lingle, a Republican running for the U.S. Senate in Hawaii, for example. According to the New York Times, Ms. Lingle has created her own cable station, in which every minute of programming is devoted to convincing Hawaiians to vote for her. “Linglevision,” which is available to about 245,000 homes in the state, consists of political speeches, ads, video issue papers and testimonials.
According to estimates from Borrell Associates,Inc., which tracks local TV and online advertising, political parties and outside groups could spend up to $6.5 billion on television and cable ads for federal and state elections in 2012. Polls show that less than 10 percent of the voters are identified as “undecided”—and they are the target of these ads. Never before is so much money being spent to change the minds of such a small percentage of the American public.
Anticipating what could be an unprecedented blitz of campaign spending, some political pundits are already questioning whether it will make much of a difference. As for our industry, it’s a double-edged sword. Sure, the ad money is great, but do we risk turning off viewers fed up with the negativity? Personally speaking, as a Virginia resident and target of these ads, I cringe when I see them during the local broadcasts and am increasingly changing the channel when they come on. How many other viewers feel this way?