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.


Continue Reading RAB Adopts Guidelines for “Posting” – Remember to Consider the Political Broadcasting Implications

In the hotly contested Democratic Presidential nominating contest, the delegates from Michigan and Florida, which already held Presidential primaries which were labeled as meaningless by the Democratic Party, may become crucial in deciding a winner in the race.  Thus, there have been discussions, particularly in Michigan, of holding another Presidential primary or caucus to award

In the last few days before the Super Tuesday series of presidential primaries, efforts are being made across the political spectrum to convince voters to vote for or against the remaining candidates.  With Obama buying Super Bowl ads in many markets, Clinton planning a one-hour program on the Hallmark Channel the night before the primaries, Rush Limbaugh and other conservative radio host attacking McCain, and third-party interest groups and unions running ads supporting or attacking various candidates, a casual observer, looking at this media blitz, may wonder how all these efforts work under the rules and laws governing the FCC and political broadcasting.

For instance, sitting here watching the Super Bowl, I just watched a half-time ad for Barack Obama.  Did the  Obama campaign spring for one of those million dollar Super Bowl ads that we all read about?  Probably not.  It appears, according to press reports, that instead of buying a national ad in the Fox network coverage, the campaign purchased local ads in certain media markets.  And with reasonable access requirements under the Communications Act and FCC rules, he could insist that his commercial get access to the program as all Federal candidates have a right of reasoanble access to all classes and dayparts of station programming.  Moreover, the spot would have to be sold at lowest unit rates.  While those rates are not the rates that an advertiser would pay for a spot on a typical early Sunday evening on a Fox program, they still would be as low as any other advertiser would pay for a similar ad aired during the game.  In this case, by buying on local stations, at lowest unit rates, his campaign apparently made the calculation that it could afford the cost, and that the exposure made it not a bad deal.


Continue Reading The Run-Up to Super Tuesday – Rush, the Super Bowl, Union Ads and an Hour on the Hallmark Channel

Here we are, almost a full month into the new year, and a number of important dates for broadcasters are already upon us.  As we wrote here, for instance, the payment of a minimum fee to SoundExchange by radio stations streaming their signals on the Internet is due today.  Lowest unit rates are in

The FCC’s political broadcasting rules can seem impenetrable and ever-changing, yet the same basic rules have been in place for well over a decade, with only minimal changes in the sponsorship identification and public file requirements mandated by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. With a little attention, memorization, and a guide to

With the shifting dates for the upcoming Presidential primaries, questions have arisen as to when broadcast stations must start to give Lowest Unit rates to candidates for these elections.  As it appears that, in some states, the primaries or caucuses for the Republicans and the Democrats may be held on different dates, the Lowest Unit rate

Last week’s announcement of the partnership between eBay and Bid4Spots and the impending full launch of Google’s service to sell online radio spots beg for FCC action to clarify how these services will be treated for lowest unit rate purposes. We have written about this issue before (see our note here), and the increasing number of online sales tools for broadcast advertising inventory highlights the issue. If advertisers can buy spots using these online systems on a single station, or if stations offer their spots to a particular advertiser at a set price for a specific class of spot, it would seem that these spots could have an effect on the station’s lowest unit rate if the spots sold through the online systems run during lowest unit rate periods (45 days before a primary or 60 days before a general election.). For the peace of mind for all broadcasters, it would be worth the FCC clarifying the status of these services as we hurtle toward what will probably be the busiest political year ever.

In looking at some of these systems, it appears that some of these systems are premised on specific stations offering spots to advertisers on a cost-per-point basis, for specific dayparts as designated by the advertiser and agreed to by the station.  For instance Bid4Spots system advertises that it holds an auction to sell the spots on Thursday for the following week.  And it appears that spots must be sold by a station in specific dayparts on a non-preemeptible basis. For the week in which the spots are offered, the sale of such spots would appear to set a lowest unit rate for non-preemptible spots that run in the same time period. 


Continue Reading Will On-Line Spot Auctions Have an Impact on Lowest Unit Rate? – Only the FCC Knows For Sure

As we reminded broadcasters earlier this month, the first filings of FCC Form 397, the Broadcast Mid-Term EEO Report, will be due to be filed at the FCC on June 1.  This report is filed 4 years after the due date for filing of a station’s license renewal application, and is to be filed by all radio station employment units with more than 10 full time employees, and all TV station employment units with five or more employees.  The first reports are due on June 1 by radio groups in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.  Every two months thereafter, stations in a different group of states will need to file their Mid-Term reports.  Last week, the FCC released a Public Notice clarifying some aspects of the filing process.

The Public Notice addressed two principal issues – (1) what happens when radio station clusters and their associated station employment units include stations in different states with different filing deadlines, and (2) what happens when employment units include both radio and television stations in the same state.  For radio employment units with stations in different states, the FCC reminds broadcasters that they should have made an election about which state’s filing deadline to use back in 2003 when the current EEO rules were adopted, and they should have been using that election for each of their public file reports since then.  That same election would control the filing deadline for the Mid-Term report. 


Continue Reading FCC Issues Clarification of Mid-Term EEO Report Obligations of Broadcasters