But for every dollar Mr. Ahladas accepts, he has less time to sell
to the car dealerships, local fast-casual restaurants and financial
advertisers that support his station for the rest of the year.
"It definitely creates a set of conditions where our inventory
is strained," he said, noting the station has sold political
advertising in heavy amounts since the start of the year. "We
understand completely the added stress this may put on those local
advertisers who still need to advertise their products and
services, even during a political environment."
It's the great paradox of being in local media in a swing state.
Wall Street loves to hear about the windfall of political-ad
dollars that leads up to a presidential election, knowing it buoys
the corporate results of TV-station owners. Yet the flipside is
that candidates' ad time keeps local businesses off the air.
Legal requirements say that if a candidate requests time, the
station is obligated to provide it. That can sometimes require
replacing parts of an ad schedule already established by local
"The television preempts come through on an almost weekly
basis," lamented Denise Goff, an associate at Lewis Media Partners,
a Richmond agency, whose clients include the Virginia Lottery and
some local health-care organizations. "It's awful," added Linda
Davis, an associate media director at Richmond's Barber Martin
While the law also obligates TV stations to provide ad inventory
to federal candidates at the lowest market rate, a surge in overall
demand for ads can drive that rate up. Even if advertisers book
time well in advance, surging rates may prompt them to drop the ad
"The problem [for local advertisers] isn't that rates go up, as
much as it is getting pushed off by the politician demanding
availability," said Jack Poor, VP-strategic planning at TVB, a
trade organization representing TV-station groups and local TV
outlets. Even if an advertiser thinks, ""I'm good because I locked
in; I'm not preemptable.' ... OK, but I'm sorry to tell you the law
says I have to put this guy in, and not you. That's the
The situation keeps WWBT's Mr. Ahladas on his toes, monitoring
the rates sponsors committed to and the rates candidates are
getting. Ad inventory available during the station's local
newscasts is highly sought after, as are local avails during prime
time. "We submit the rates that would be required to clear,
depending on when [the advertiser] is going to get on, and it's up
to the client at that point to decide to pay those rates or not,"
It hasn't always been this way in Virginia, which didn't emerge
as a swing state until 2008 -- and even then wasn't dealing in the
kind of dollars it is today. Through September, the Richmond area
received nearly 10 times the general-election-related ad dollars it
had in the same period four years ago, according to NPR, which
cited Kantar Media CMAG figures. As of last week, the Richmond area
had aired 36 ,090 political TV spots and raked in $14,515,960 in
spending, per Kantar Media CMAG.
"Virginia stations have hit pay dirt in a spectacular way in
2012. The state already has seen almost twice the presidential
TV-ad spending that it saw for the entire 2008 general election,
and we've still got a few weeks left to go," said Kantar Media
CMAG's Elizabeth Wilner.
The numbers are fueled by a close presidential race and
heightened spending by super PACs, or political action committees
that aren't directly controlled by the candidates and have fewer
restrictions on how much money they can solicit and spend. It's a
veritable storm of ad dollars—"a perfect storm," according to
Mr. Ahladas—but will regular sponsors return after Nov.
Keeping clients happy
Of course, there are techniques stations can use to try to keep
regular clients happy until then. TVB's Mr. Poor noted some TV
stations will reduce the time they allot to local promos, offer
nonpolitical advertisers online video inventory on the station's
website or space on digital-cable channels they may run, or buy
back ad time from their affiliated networks. None of these offers a
Many advertisers simply choose to take their ads off the air
during the most heated time before the election. At Barber Martin,
some clients are running ads on radio, local cable and even print,
Ms. Davis said. "They're probably not really happy about it
overall, but they don't want to spend four times the rate
Even those alternative plans can run into headwinds.
At Lewis Media, Ms. Goff reported that she is finding it tough
to get her clients onto local radio stations. "There has been a
huge amount of politics placed on radio that in my years, I've
never, ever seen," she said. "A quick schedule had to be booked two
days out, and it had trouble clearing."
Until Election Day, regular local advertisers may simply not
find a lot of room on TV. "If you're watching a show, [the ad
breaks] are wall-to-wall political at this point," Ms. Goff