Remember the outrage over Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission? The 2010 Supreme Court decision allowed corporations and other entities to expend unlimited funds on electoral influence, inspiring feverish protests and calls for constitutional reform. Jeremiads about the devolution of political discourse from an active citizenry engaged in public debate to a Machiavellian nightmare of corporate manipulation proliferated. Coupled with the growing awareness of economic inequality, Citizens United helped incite the Occupy movement and has already become a byword for corruption in the American political process. Like plenty of Americans, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg detests the ruling. “If there was one decision I would overrule, it would be Citizens United,” she told Jeffrey Rosen of the New Republic. “I think the notion that we have all the democracy that money can buy strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be.” While it’s easy to locate those who defend Citizens United on constitutional grounds, finding support for the decision’s real-world effects on public discourse, debate, and democratic participation is a tougher task. But there’s one party that ought to be cheering the ruling’s positive impact on its livelihood: local TV.
Citizens United opened the floodgates for unprecedented amounts of political advertising, and nobody has surfed that wave more than local TV station operators. For local broadcast channels and their it-bleeds-it-leads newscasts, the Supreme Court might as well be that mythic relative who leaves you an unexpected fortune in his will. The cascade of political money to your local channel began for real in 2012. That year, according to the Pew Research Center, local television stations received $3.1 billion in political advertising revenue. That was 48 percent more than was spent just two years earlier (before Citizens United) and represented more than double the amount raked in during the previous presidential election in 2008. As Pew reported in April in the State of the Media 2015 Report:
Local TV stations continued to fare well economically. Much of this is due to political advertising spending, which after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling seems to guarantee windfalls to local TV stations in even-numbered years. In 2014 total on-air ad revenue for local stations reached $20 billion, according to consulting firm BIA/Kelsey, up 7% from the year before …
This rising tide is lifting everybody in the local television industry. The big station owners, including networks like ABC, CBS, and NBC and group licensees such as Sinclair, Nexstar Broadcasting Group, and Gannett all watched stock valuations soar. This led the giants to increase their acquisitions, setting a record in 2013 and propelling consolidation in the industry. Maximizing efficiency (and profits) then led to centralized management and shared news content. As Mother Jones reported last year, America’s local TV audiences continue to be “fed an even more repetitive diet of dreck” as the same inane “news” packages and video news releases show up across multiple markets. This makes great fodder for Conan, but the consequences are far less humorous for democracy. Cumulatively, Americans across the political spectrum still get most of their political news from their local TV stations—not Fox News, MSNBC, the network news shows, or even Facebook. And those local TV audiences materialize in the voting booth to reveal their electoral might.
Full Article: Citizens United is making local TV rich. Here’s why..