WTTG (Channel 5), the District’s Fox affiliate, for example, began bumping daily reruns of “The Simpsons” on Monday to add an extra half-hour to its 6 p.m. newscast. The expanded “News Edge” program will focus on political news — the kind of programming political advertisers demand most.
WJLA (Channel 7), the area’s ABC affiliate, has temporarily added two weekend newscasts to its schedule for the same reason. On Saturday, the station preempted network programming and aired a two-hour movie in prime time in order to create more local ad slots. The station has occasionally shaved time from some of its weekday programming to accommodate an extra political ad or two, said Bill Lord, WJLA’s general manager.
“It makes sense, let’s put it that way,” he says.
Washington’s TV stations are the beneficiaries of a record amount of political advertising this fall. During a one-month period that ended Friday, the stations collected $58.6 million from political advertisers, a sixfold increase from the $9.8 million spent on political issues in the same period in 2008, according to an estimate by Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG), a tracking firm.
Washington ranks fifth nationwide among TV markets in the number of political ads broadcast during October, according to the firm. In the most recent week tracked (Oct. 11-17), about 5,560 political commercials ran on Washington’s broadcast stations.
The deluge is driven by a confluence of events, and by the Washington area’s two-state, three-jurisdiction geography.
With Virginia a crucial swing state in the presidential race, President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney, along with allied but independent groups, have poured money into local TV ads to reach viewers in the voter-rich northern part of the state. Virginia senate candidates George Allen (R) and Tim Kaine (D) and their supporters have their own TV ad war going, too, aimed at those same Northern Virginians.
Meanwhile, voters in Maryland are getting bombarded with ads for and against two heavily contested ballot questions, particularly Question 7, which would expand casino gambling to Prince George’s County. Proponents and opponents of Question 7 have raised about $56 million for the statewide fight, making the ballot measure more expensive than the past two Maryland gubernatorial campaigns combined.
Good news for Washington’s stations, which reach Maryland, Virginia and the District simultaneously.
“This is the biggest political market that there has ever been in this marketplace,” says Mark Burdett, the president and general manager of WUSA (Channel 9), the CBS affiliate. “It’s the biggest wave you’ve ever ridden.”
Elizabeth Wilner, a vice president of CMAG, characterized it this way: “Washington usually was an island where everyone knew about politics but where people didn’t see the same number of ads that other [cities] did. This time, D.C. got on the political [ad] radar early and never fell off.”