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TV Ad-Spending Bonanza Revs Up In New Hampshire
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TV Ad-Spending Bonanza Revs Up In New Hampshire

Politics

TV Ad-Spending Bonanza Revs Up In New Hampshire

TV Ad-Spending Bonanza Revs Up In New Hampshire
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Presidential campaigns are spending tens of millions of dollars ahead of the New Hampshire primary. That's a windfall for the state's only network TV affiliate, where much of the money is being spent.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In the lead up to the New Hampshire primary, candidates and political action committees are spending millions and millions of dollars on TV ads. And much of that money goes to the state's only network TV affiliate. New Hampshire Public Radio's Brady Carlson reports on what the windfall means for the local station.

BRADY CARLSON, BYLINE: Most of the time, in Manchester on psychopathic ABC WMUR-TV in Manchester looks and sounds like every other ABC affiliate in the country. For example, they have "Muppets."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE MUPPETS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing).

CARLSON: But when the commercial breaks start up, well, that's when you know the New Hampshire primary is almost here.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

BERNIE SANDERS: I'm Bernie Sanders, and I approve this message. Join the fight to take...

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Marco Rubio. Skipping major votes, all over the place on immigration...

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: It's time for a president who will stand up to runaway government and fight Washington special interests.

SCOTT TRANCHEMONTAGNE: When people come to visit New Hampshire leading up to the presidential primary, they can't believe how many political commercials they're seeing. Their head explodes.

CARLSON: That's Scott Tranchemontagne. He's a New Hampshire political and communications consultant who's worked on primaries since 1996. WMUR and its owner, Hearst Television, are the largest beneficiaries of all that ad spending. FCC filings show ad buys of more than $27 million dollars, almost 40 percent of all primary spending for broadcast TV. Tranchemontagne isn't working with any candidate this year, but he says colleagues who are find they're buying TV ads more often and earlier than ever before.

TRANCHEMONTAGNE: They start, you now, eight months ahead of time, and they buy all the availabilities or most of them. I've seen campaigns, you now, the first buy they make is the final week of the campaign.

CARLSON: Eight years ago, the average cost of a WMUR campaign ad was just over $900. This year, it's over $1600, and primetime spots can be more than double that. Ken Goldstein of the University of San Francisco has analyzed TV ad spending in the primary. He says the rise in ad costs is very much related to the rise of super PACs.

KEN GOLDSTEIN: There's something called lowest unit rate, which guarantees that candidates - they don't pay a low rate (laughter) necessarily, but pay the lowest possible rate.

CARLSON: As for super PACs and other independent groups?

GOLDSTEIN: It is completely the Wild West when in an open market when it comes to groups. These groups, on average, are paying three times as much as candidates. And in some cases, they're paying four, five, six, ten times as much as the candidate.

CARLSON: For WMUR, that's practically a license to print money. The station's management didn't respond to an interview request for this story, but it's easy to see what the revenue makes possible. The station proudly touts over 30 hours of local news and programming each week, including regular interviews with the presidential candidates. It even earned a nickname in the 2000 campaign because of a single Republican candidate and his ads.

DANTE SCALA: WMUR studios were known as the house that Steve Forbes built because of the number of ads that self-financed candidate ran there in the 1990s.

CARLSON: That's political scientist Dante Scala of the University of New Hampshire.

SCALA: Well, the amount of money that WMUR is making for itself and its parent corporation probably makes Steve Forbes pale in comparison.

CARLSON: As for future primary windfalls for WMUR, the media landscape is changing in New Hampshire. There's more competition from Boston TV stations, cable systems and a new independent broadcast station in southern New Hampshire, not to mention online ads that are going in prominence. But consultant Scott Tranchemontagne says for now, stations like WMUR are where most campaigns will buy first because they have what presidential hopefuls are after.

TRANCHEMONTAGNE: Television is still a primary source these days, for many people, for news and information, at least older voters like me.

CARLSON: Which means the ad money will keep coming in and New Hampshire voters will see more candidates on their screen along with their "Muppets." For NPR News, I'm Brady Carlson in Concord.

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