At a meeting held this week, the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB) adopted Guidelines promoting the use of "posting" or audience delivery guarantees for the radio industry. While these guidelines are voluntary, and no doubt some broadcasters will not adopt the practice, those who do should be aware of the political broadcasting implications. For years, at political broadcasting seminars that I have conducted around the country, the question of how posting affects the political broadcasting obligations of television broadcasters has been much discussed. In its 1991 policy statement on Political Broadcasting, which essentially established the rules that broadcasters have followed in the years since, the Commission’s entire discussion of how audience underdelivery make good spots affected a station’s political broadcasting obligations was essentially addressed in two sentences – essentially saying that such guarantees must be made available to candidates in the same manner as commercial advertisers. Thus, stations must offer audience delivery guarantees to political advertisers if they offer such guarantees to commercial advertisers. The 1992 reconsideration added a few more sentences, making clear that any make-good spots provided to meet any delivery guaranty would not need to be considered in determining the lowest unit charge of the time periods in which the make good runs. What the Commission leaves to the broadcaster, however, is to fashion a way to compensate the candidate for underdelivery when the underdelivery may not be discovered for months (when the next ratings book is released), which will usually be after the election for which the candidate purchased the spots.
In the television industry, where posting has been common for years, stations deal with the political implications in many different ways. First, not all purchased spots will have delivery guarantees. Under Commission rules, spots that have different rights can be considered to be spots of a different class, and each class of spots will have its own lowest unit rate. Thus, spots with audience delivery guarantees will likely have a higher price than those that do not have the guarantees. As the make good spots for any underdelivery of audience will be of little value if they are not available until after an election, the candidates will usually opt for the lower priced spots without the guarantees. Alternatively, stations can offer candidates a discount off of their lowest unit rates for spots with guarantees in exchange for the candidates agreeing to waive any underdelivery make-good spots. In a few cases, candidates agree to take any make-good spots to which they may be entitled, and use them after the election to thank their supporters or to convey policy positions to their constituents.
One more political broadcasting issue needs to be taken into account when a station adopts posting – the need to disclose its posting policies in its political disclosure statement. The Commission’s rules specifically require that the station’s political disclosure statement include:
An explanation of the station’s sales practices, if any, that are based on audience delivery, with the stipulation that candidates will be able to purchase this kind of time, if available to commercial advertisers.
With any new sales practice, stations need to take into account the political broadcasting implications, especially in a hotly contested political broadcasting year like this one. So consider those new policies carefully. And, for more information about the political broadcasting rules, see our Political Broadcasting Guide.