When the FCC required posting political advertising information by television stations, NAB protested the inherent unfairness of imposing the requirement on TV alone. But it offered a compromise that would have made the files much easier to use. The NAB offer was turned down. So guess what a watchdog is now complaining about: The files are hard to use.
Pro Publicis wants access to this information, and it did comment the FCC for getting the requirement on the books and operational in short order.
However, it also said that the idea was to get the information out there in a form that made it easy to use, so watchdogs could keep track of who was spending what where on whose behalf.
The result was anything but that, because television stations that were in the initial group saddled with the requirement – Big Four affiliates in the top 50 DMAs – had to put all of their sales contract information in the file.
Pro Publicis said it was virtually impossible to make any sense out of the files during election season. It wrote, “Many stations fell short of the legal requirement to maintain an ‘orderly’ public file. Some stations’ files were plagued by illegible writing, duplicate contracts, opaque revisions, and obscure internal filing practices. At times stations filed five, ten, even twenty versions of a single contract between a campaign and a TV station to buy a week of ads. That made it nearly impossible to get an accurate picture of overall spending.”
Before the requirement was put in place, NAB had offered a counter-proposal that would get the information out there in an easily-usable format while protecting the stations from divulging specific rate information – stations would provide a weekly summary of all political spending – how much was spent, who it was spent by and for. But the proposal was not accepted.
RBR-TVBR observation: We still have no idea why the NAB proposal wasn’t adopted. Each station would have done the work that watchdogs were frantically organizing volunteers to do – summarizing all of the sales figures to get a real-time look at where the spending was taking place.
Instead, it was welcome to the world of broadcast sales, Watchdogs!
Every television sales department is a snowflake, and every spot order is also a snowflake, giving journalists and watchdogs a double blizzard to deal with when trying to make sense out of political spending.
Dayparts. Discounts. Lowest unit rates. Specific time requests. Run of schedule orders. Cancellations. Changes. Etcetera. Etcetera. Even more etcetera.
Broadcasters were required to throw it all in the file. OF COURSE it was virtually unusable for real time evaluation. It’s utterly and unnecessarily ill-suited for any kind of evaluation.
RBR-TVBR would have loved to be able to go to a station’s website and get a snapshot of political advertising activity — but the failure of the FCC to accept the NAB proposal robbed us all of that opportunity.
As we go forward, we strongly suggest that the FCC take NAB up on its offer, if it’s still on the table.