For TV stations, the election-year party is rocking months earlier than anyone expected. The guests of honor are stations with strong news.
Long before the usual burst of campaign ad spending following the August political conventions, candidates, parties and interest groups are buying up ad time in presidential “swing” states and in markets with tight races for governor and Congress. For network affiliates in the 21 presidential battleground states, that means double-digit increases in campaign revenue, compared to this point four years ago.
Hearst Argyle, Scripps, Belo, Gannett and Sinclair all have reported major boosts to first quarter revenue, thanks to the infusion of ad dollars. Part of their thanks should go to their news operations. Campaign buyers almost exclusively reserve TV buys for stations with well-rated local news. “It’s going to be a great year for local stations that have made an investment in news” says Sanford Bernstein & Co. analyst Tom Wolzien.
Industry analysts predicted last fall that stations’ take from this year’s election would jump sharply-up 60% from 2000 to as high as $1.6 billion. But all seem surprised that so much has been spent so quickly.
The money has already shown up in the first quarter performance of top TV stations groups. For instance, Hearst Argyle's political take during the first three months of 2004 was $10.1 million, up 31% from the $7.7 million in political money during the first three months of 2000, the last presidential election year.
Similar infusions were enjoyed by Scripps, up 147% to $4.2 million, Belo, up 13% to $4.5 million and Sinclair, up 21% to $2.8 million.