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11/5/2012 12:14:00 PM
Even after last political ad airs, number of commercials won't diminish
Catholic News Service

 Well, it's about all over but the voting in the most expensive election cycle ever.

Certainly the deep-pocketed types who contributed millions upon millions to campaign treasuries will wonder whether they got enough bang for their buck, even if their preferred candidate won.

Just how much of these contributions went to buying television time for ads? It is impossible to say. Because of the Supreme Court's 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case, the super PACs do not have to reveal who made donations, or the size of their donations. There were more than 3 million campaign ads purchased since January, but each station has different ad sales rates based on their ratings, the time of day, and the size of the market.

The best guesses would have to come from the TV stations in the most fiercely contested states. The major cities in swing states such as Ohio, Florida and Colorado saw their TV stations pocket collectively pocket cash in eight figures -- that's the tens of millions -- thanks to political ad buys from presidential, senatorial and congressional candidates, not to mention statewide races and ballot questions. And that doesn't even take into account the local ad buys on cable stations.

It appeared, though, the principle of diminishing returns was setting in with regard to PAC spending. Two weeks before Election Day, The New York Times reported that some Republicans had become the target of negative ads by anonymous super PACs.

Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., one such target, told the newspaper those who survived the barrage of negative ads would start "the groundswell for reform" when they return to Washington.

A Republican senator and a Republican congressman, according to the story, are drafting proposals that would shift more responsibility for the content and tone of TV ads onto the candidate's campaigns instead of the third-party proxies.

In 2010, not long after the Citizens United ruling, the House passed the Disclose Act, which would have achieved many of the same aims now being sought. But in the Senate, the bill got 59 votes to break a filibuster, one shy of the total needed.

Even when the last political ad airs this season, there will still be way too many commercials. The glut simply deadens the soul.

The latest violator: the generally family-friendly TV Land and Nick at Nite cable channels.

They got into trouble when they over-promised to advertisers just how many eyeballs of targeted demographic groups would be watching those channels during the day, including prime time.

Networks are loath to give money back when ratings don't meet expectations. So they offer make-good ads. The advertiser is already on the hook for buying, say, a million bucks worth of ad time. But if the ratings demographics amount to, say, 80 percent of what the advertiser expected, then the network supplies "free" ad time based on current ratings until the contract is fulfilled.

So how are TV Land and Nick at Nite making good with the advertisers? Not by deferring ad inventory, but by increasing the number of commercials shown during each program.

Broadcasting & Cable, an industry journal, has caught the two cable channels airing only five sitcom episodes during a three-hour block of time when one would expect to see six shows. The shows, instead of running 30 minutes in length, are now stretched out to 36 minutes to make room for all the ads.

Broadcasting & Cable timed some of the commercial breaks at more than six minutes long.

One irony: During one of the marathon commercial breaks, the Dish Network satellite TV service had an ad for its Hopper device -- which skips commercials.

If viewers know in advance there's going to be five or six minutes of ads between segments of a show, they may take advantage of the opportunity to put the kids to bed, or brush their teeth, or put in a load of the laundry, or pay some bills -- none of which requires them to be in front of the tube.

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