Supreme Court Ruling Will Mean More Political Ads On Ohio TV

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If you're a fan of political TV ads, you're going to love what will be coming up in the next presidential race.

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision last week to lift the limits an individual can contribute to federal candidates is expected to send so much cash into television stations that account executives will worry about where to put it all.

"It's going to mean a lot more money gets pumped into the advertising revenues that are earned at television stations across the United States," said Hugh Martin, professor in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism focusing on media economics.

"In that sense it's going to be very good for broadcast television stations at least in the short run."

The new no-limit ruling could double the amount contributed to presidential candidates.

"I do think it will be quite substantial because there are many groups of people who have deep pockets who want to influence campaigns because they want to influence policy," Martin said.

For Ohioans that will mean wall-to-wall political ads on television.

"It's not evenly distrbuted across the country," Martin said. 

Because Ohio is a swing state, much of the added revenue will be spent here to move undecided voters.

The last election saw around $150 million spent in Ohio, mostly in television.  Martin said the Supreme Court's ruling could mean twice as many dollars spent to purchase TV time.

While television stations have enjoyed what is essentially a four-year windfall from political advertising, some media companies are now building their business strategies around campaign cash.

The E.W. Scripps Company owns television stations in Cincinnati and Cleveland, two big stations in an important swing state – a fact that's not been missed by the bean-counters.

"In its most recent report to shareholders, political adverising is the very first thing that it talks about in it's [annual] report," Martin observed.

But because there are only so many minutes in the broadcast-day and because broadcasters are restricted on how much they can charge political candidates the question arises:  Where will the extra money go?

With the implementation of digital broadasting, TV stations often now program added channels known as Standard Definition signals or SD streams.

For commercial broadcasters those channels may become overflows for political advertising according to Martin, though he admits data about political spending on SD channels is difficult to find.

After TV stations Martin said another major recipient of the added campaign cash will be web and social media sites.

In the last presidential election Martin said search engines Google and Bing had special websites devoted to politics. 

"Those are of course created to attract what, political advertising," he said.

"So I think that competition to attract these new political ad dollars is going to intensify now and stations are going to be up against these enormous search engines and other websites."      

The expected infusion of cash into the process says something about the value of campaign ads in how voters make their ballot decisions Martin said.

"It says that people believe that most of the citizens who can be persuaded to change their mind about who they vote for, that this is may be the most important source of information they have."

"I think that is something for political scientists to think about but I think it's something for a citizen to think about also," he added.

"If that's really what drives the outcomes is that the best thing for our democracy?"