Political ads inundate Vermont airwaves, target NH voters

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(Host) As the campaign season enters its final days, there’s been a noticeable increase in the number of political advertisements in newspapers and on radio and television. But many Vermont media outlets are reporting only an average year for political ads.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Political ads fill Vermont’s airwaves and newspapers in the final days leading up to an election. But for the most part there’s nothing unusual in the number of ads running this year.

Newspapers carry ads mostly for local and statewide candidates. Several Vermont papers report that once the final revenue figures are tallied, the amount spent on political advertising will be near or below that spent two years ago.

The race for governor is typical. It’s likely that the candidates this year will spend less on advertising than was spent in 2002 when both candidates benefited from a significant influx of money from the national political parties.

(Sound of Bush ad) “President Bush and congressional allies…”

(Zind) For one television station, however, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of political ads. And the ads aren’t directed at Vermonters. Peter Martin is General Manager of WCAX Television.

(Martin) “This has certainly been the heaviest spending political season that I think we’ve ever seen, by a factor of perhaps two or more, driven primarily by the presidential campaign, primarily by the Bush Campaign. That advertising, of course, directed at our audience in New Hampshire.”

(Zind) The Nielsen Monitor-Plus and the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project analyze political advertising trends. The project says Burlington is one of a handful of television markets targeted by the Bush campaign to hit voters in the swing state of New Hampshire. Martin says he expects the campaigns to spend a total of more than two million dollars on WCAX by the time the last ad runs.

Federal law requires broadcasters to make time available for political advertising. Television stations must routinely move ads from local businesses to make room for political ads. If you think you’re seeing enough political ads on television – the campaigns don’t. They’d like to air even more. Martin says campaigns have to be turned away when there’s no more time available.

(Martin) “There gets to be a point at which you can say, ‘whoa’. And I think we did get to a point where we said, ‘we just can’t do this anymore.'”

(Zind) The boon in political advertising has a profound economic effect on the television industry. Revenues from campaigns create two year cycles in TV ad buying. Revenues are down in odd number years and up in even numbered election years.

Paul Sands is the General Manager of the Burlington area television station WPTZ.

(Sands) “That’s why we always say you can’t really look at an even numbered year or an odd numbered year and say that’s the barometer of how successful this business is. One ought to look at both.”

(Zind) Sands says because his station doesn’t get into New Hampshire, WPTZ hasn’t seen an increase in ads for the presidential candidates. He says revenues from political advertising are about average this year.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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