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Scripps TV Stations Ramp Up Free Airtime for Candidates

CINCINNATI: E.W. Scripps is extending free air time again this election cycle to candidates, and expanding its overall political coverage strategy. Scripps TV stations in all 13 of the company’s television markets will provide a minimum of five minutes of free airtime to candidates nightly between 5 and 11:35 p.m. in the 30 days preceding the general elections, the company said today. The stations also will provide free airtime as needed during the 30 days preceding primary elections, and give priority clearance to “Get out the vote” public service announcements in each station’s PSA inventory during the 30 days leading up to each primary and the general election.

Brian Lawlor, senior vice president of the Scripps television division, said the stations intend to “marinate” the audience in political coverage. The station group has been offering free political airtime since 2000, and will expand its multiplatform coverage this year. All stations, for example, will have an “Ask the Candidates” feature on their websites where voters can submit questions and compare candidates answers and comment on them. In Florida, which has a senatorial race and the Republican National Convention, Scripps stations in Tampa and West Palm Beach are working with company newspapers to provide an online portal with information on candidates’ positions, voter registration information and maps of political jurisdictional boundaries. Scripps also is partnering with the Center for Responsive Politics to offer searchable online databases that allow voters to research campaign contributions.

The Scripps Howard News Service in Washington, D.C. will have a new team in place this year to focus on political investigations, such as the tracking of campaign finances.

Scripps has 10 ABC affiliates in Detroit, Denver, San Diego and Bakersfield, Calif.; Cincinnati, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Tampa, Fla.; Baltimore and Phoenix, Ariz.; and three NBC affiliates in West Palm Beach, Fla.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Tulsa, Okla. All will participate in the Scripps initiative. The McGraw-Hill TV stations Scripps bought for $212 million last year are not included.

The 2012 presidential election cycle is anticipated to generate an unprecedented windfall of advertising revenues in the range of $4.9 billion to $8 billion, with TV stations taking more than half. Scripps stations are well-positioned in states where spending is expected to be particularly strong, according to a Wells Fargo analysis. Colorado, Florida and Michigan are considered presidential swing states. Missouri and Indiana have gubernatorial races, and senate seats are open in Arizona, California, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Missouri. All 10 of Scripps TV markets are in states with what Wells Fargo is labeling “hot” congressional races.

Local TV stations took in nearly $2.9 billion during the 2010 election cycle, and are estimated by Wells Fargo to take in $2.654 billion this year. Both the 2006 and 2008 election cycle generated $2.1 billion for local TV; the 2004 cycle yielded $1.56 billion.
~ Deborah D. McAdams