Political Broadcasting season is now in full swing, with the Democrats just ending their convention, and the Republicans beginning theirs next week. Already, we’ve seen disputes about third party attack ads (see our post here), and there are bound to be many more issues about the FCC’s political broadcasting rules that arise during what looks to be a very contentious political season. For guidance on many political broadcasting issues, you can check out our Political Broadcasting Guide, with discussions of many common political broadcasting issues (including reasonable access, equal opportunities, lowest unit rates, public file issues, and political disclosure statements) in what we hope is an easy to follow question and answer format. Broadcasters should also remember that the Lowest Unit Rate "political window" opens on September 5, meaning that stations cannot charge political candidates any more than the lowest rate that is charged a commercial advertiser for the same class of time run at the same time as the candidate’s spot.
We have reminded broadcasters that the Lowest Unit Rate (or "Lowest Unit Charge," often abbreviated as" LUC" or "LUR")must be available to all candidates for public office – including state and local candidates. While state and local candidates have no right of reasonable access (meaning that a station can decide not to sell time to those candidates, or to restrict their purchase of time to particular limited dayparts), if the station sells state and local candidates time, it must be at Lowest Unit Rates during the political window.
Some of the other aspects of Lowest Unit Rates as discussed in our Political Broadcasting Guide:
What is a class of time?
A class is a type of spot that has unique rights and characteristics. For instance, spots that run
in different dayparts which have different rates are of a different class, e.g. morning drive is a
different class from mid-day, which is different from afternoon drive. Each of those classes
would have its own lowest unit rate.
Even within a given daypart, a station may have spots of many different classes. Basically, a spot is of a different class if it has different rights. Thus, in any daypart, there may be multiple classes of time, each with its own lowest unit rate. For instance, a preemptible spot would be of a different class than a fixed position spot each with a different lowest unit rate even if they both run during the same daypart. Different rotations can also be different classes with their own lowest unit rate, e.g. a spot which could run anytime between 6 a.m. and midnight could be a different class from one that can run between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. If the stations sells these rotations, and sells them with differing rates, rights of preemption, or make good privileges, then they would be of a different class and each would have a different lowest unit rate. A candidate can buy spots of any of those classes at the lowest unit rate for that class, and he gets the same rights that commercial advertisers who buy that spot get (e.g. if the candidate buys spots in a 6 a.m. to midnight rotation, his spots are treated just like those of a commercial advertiser who buys those spots and they can run anywhere between those hours).
What commercial spots do you look at in determining the lowest unit rate for a given class
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.
Do candidates have to buy in volume to get volume discounts?
No. Candidates get the benefit of all volume discounts, even if they do not buy in volume. For
instance, if spots are $10 each, or 12 for $100, the candidate can buy one spot for $8.33 (100
divided by 12) even though a commercial advertiser would have to spend $100 to get the volume
Check out the Guide for further information about these and other topics dealing with the law of political advertising.