December 22 – just as broadcast stations are running their last-minute ads for Christmas shopping – is the first day of the Lowest Unit Rate period for the Presidential primaries and caucuses to be held on February 5. According to the list of Presidential primary dates available on the website of the Federal Election Commission, here, states holding their Presidential primary or caucus on February 5 are: New York, California, Illinois, New Jersey, Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, and (for Democratic candidates only) Idaho and Kansas. But, as we explain in our Political Broadcasting Guide, available here, the fact that the Lowest Unit Rate period begins now does not mean that stations need to charge Presidential candidates running ads this weekend the same amount that they charge these same candidates for spots that will run in mid-January, when inventory demands from commercial advertisers will be much less.
As we explain in our Political Broadcasting Guide:
What commercial spots do you look at in determining the lowest unit rate for a given class of time?
You look at the spots of that class running at the same time as the candidate’s spots. You need not look any further than those spots running (or being offered on a rate card) during the 45 days before a primary or the 60 days before a general election. But even within the 45 and 60 day periods, the rates can change. If, for instance, a long term package sets your lowest unit rate for a particular class of time, and the last spot from that package is run midway through the political window, after the last spot from the package runs, the rates for that class of time can go up for the rest of the political window. Similarly, if spots are sold on a demand basis, the lowest unit rate can change on an almost daily basis. If there are “fire sales” of spots during particular periods within a window, the lowest unit charge for the fire sale does not set the rates for periods outside of the fire sale period.
Also, note that the Lowest Unit Rate window in effect for Presidential candidates does not mean that you need to give those same rates to other political candidates in other races, where the primary for those other elections are most likely at some time later in the year. See our post here, for more details.
Stations in those states listed above – take note and make sure that your political practices are in place and ready for the coming onslaught of political ads.