A question about election advertising

There is a special election coming up nearby to where I live and a boatload of advertising is being bought. Listening to all this campaign advertising made me wonder about something. When it isn’t campaign season, television, radio and other media have all their ad space sold (or as much as they are able) and many of those ads are contracts for ads that will run for long periods of time. So how exactly do media outlets “find” all the slots to run all this new advertising that happens during campaign season?

Do they increase their prices to tamp down demand from regular advertisers? Do they offer regular advertisers extensions or reductions if they can convert slots into campaign advertising? I mean car dealers, plumbers and AC repair companies still need their ads to run during campaign season. So where do the slots come from?


My guess is that TV stations don’t sell 100% of their available ad space so they always have some available should someone need it for some reason.

They’re not allowed to raise ad rates for political ads.

But there are always the same amount of slots. If they’re not filled, the station will run PSAs (for a nonprofit, government, or for their own programs). These can (and will) be dropped at any time once a paying advertiser comes along. So instead the “stop smoking” ad for the Department of Health gets set aside for the political ads.

Disclaimer: I work in advertising (though not in media buying).

This is as I understand it. However, TV stations and radio stations, recognizing that there will be a high demand for advertising space in the run-up to an election, can and will raise their overall rates during those periods. That can, effectively, take the small local advertisers out of the market.

Also, the contracts that many advertisers’ contracts to run ads on TV or radio contain clauses that let the station “bump” their ads if demand increases (i.e., if candidates and PACs want to flood the market with political ads). This is particularly true if the advertiser has made their ad buy at the last minute. The advertiser may get a discount on the price of their ad space, in return for being willing to be bumped.

A bit more info here:

Broadcast stations have a mandate from the FCC to run a certain number of PSAs. Once they’ve fulfilled that, if they still have unsold ad space, they will usually fill that space with promotional spots for their own programming.

I was aware of the PSA filler ads, but in the Atlanta market you only hear those at really off hours – like early A.M. on a Sunday sort of thing. You never hear PSAs during their prime ad times, like drive time for radio stations. So they would definitely have to do something to “free” up slots when suddenly several new advertisers want to get into that space.

RealityChuck, you said they can’t raise rates for political ads. Can they raise them ‘seasonally?’ in anticipation of an overabundance of political ads? That obviously would not come into play for special elections though.

Edit: Thanks, kenobi 65, I was typing while you posted.

See my reply (which I likely posted while you were posting) – they certainly can, and do. And, even a special election is announced with a few weeks or months of lead-time, which would give them time to raise their rates if they anticipated strong, sudden demand.