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Political Broadcasting

Modified: 2017/05/15 10:27 by admin - Uncategorized

Political Broadcasting

The most frequently asked question during political season is how to determine the lowest unit rate as required by the FCC. (See section 73.1942 of Statutes and Rules on Candidate Appearances & Advertising)

As anything involving government oversight, determining this rate is extremely complicated. "Political Broadcasting - Answering Your Questions on the FCC's Rules and Policies" by David Oxenford is an excellent resource for understanding the rules for political advertising on your station. One factor important to note is determining a class of time. Oxenford explains (page 13):

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 midday, 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).

Another factor to be aware of when determining lowest rates for political season is what commercial spots do you look at in determining the lowest unit rate for a given class of time:
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.

Note also that no vendor of traffic software that permits manual editing (which is all of us) can enforce any pre-emptible or make good policies for the different classes of time. Manual placement, whether by drag and drop moves from the log or bump list is not within the placement control of our software. When a time period is oversold and some spots can’t follow all the rules entered into the traffic software regarding product separation, voice separation, priority placement and any of several others, those spots go into a bump list. From that point forward, placement is all done manually.

If the station charges different rates based on whether a spot is not pre-emptible at all, pre-emptible with make goods within 1 business day, pre-emptible with make goods within 2-3 business days, or any other policy, for political purposes those create new rate classes. Because those make goods are rescheduled manually by a traffic person, the traffic software can’t predict classes or rates for those sub-classes until after the fact, at best.

Pre-emption classes cannot be used as a loophole around the right of qualified candidates to receive benefit of your lowest rate. In other words, you can’t say politicians get non-preemptible spots so they should pay more. If you offer pre-emptible spots to ANY advertiser, then that same class MUST be offered to qualified candidates at the lowest rate.

Also, if announcers move any spots to any different time period of class of pre-emption, then any report printed from traffic software is then wrong.

Last but not least, any report printed today could be rendered “wrong” tomorrow if any new order gets entered and approved at a lower rate than was in place today. Note that the Federal Rules require cash rebates to qualified candidates who get overcharged.


The Reports

The most helpful report for determining lowest unit rate is the spot rate report, found under the Contracts category of the RadioTraffic Report window. This is the default view of the spot rate report window, but this report is MyViews enabled:

Using the column chooser, place the Customer, Start Time, End Time, Line Rate, Net Rate, and Contract in the window. If any $0 spots are in the Net Rate column, refer to the contract to make sure that it was cancelled and would not be included in determining the lowest rate.

Although helpful for determining lowest unit rate, information on the spot rate report is not enough to determine the effective rate during the political window on its own. This report does not take into account pre-emption policies, make good policies, enforcement of rate classes, spots being moved between rate "classes" outside of the traffic system, etc.

Best Practices
Set and enforce policies to protect the integrity of the rate classes, and build a strong rate card that adheres to these policies. Exercise caution relying heavily upon any traffic system's "lowest unit rate" report.


The Law

Please refer to section 73.1942 of Statutes and Rules on Candidate Appearances & Advertising regarding the specific rules associated with determining candidate rates. As this is a legal issue, please review the rules and any information we provide regarding this subject with your attorney.


The Bottom Line

Again, the best information that we've found that clearly explains the majority of the aspects regarding political rates is David D. Oxenford's "Political Broadcasting - Answering Your Questions on the FCC's Rules and Policies." He shares questions and answers on nearly every relevant topic regarding this subject. It answers many questions and clears up a ton of misinformation and misunderstanding.