Much of the national advertising is fueled by cash from so-called super PACS, the independent political groups that emerged as a result of court rulings lifting restrictions on the amount of political spending by corporations and unions. Media analysts project that campaigns, super PACS and other special-interest groups will spend more than $3.3 billion before the general election, according to a September report by Freepress citing projections by Wells Fargo and the Campaign Media Analysis Group.
But just a few states and a few companies, the conglomerates that own TV stations in battleground states such as Colorado, Florida, Ohio and Virginia, are likely to reap the rewards, experts say.
Hunt Valley-based Sinclair Broadcast Group stands to benefit, along with Belo Corp., E.W. Scripps Co., Gannett Co. Inc., Gray Television Inc. and Media General Inc., according to the Freepress report, citing SNL Kagan's media analysts. Broadcast TV station owners' revenues from political ads rose 50 percent for the first half of the year compared to the first half of 2010, during the last federal election, and similar growth is expected during the third quarter, analysts said.
Sinclair, which owns Fox 45 in Baltimore, took in $11.4 million in political advertising spending in the second quarter — triple the company's expectations. For the third quarter, the company said it expects about $18.5 million to $23.5 million worth of political advertising spending. That would be between 61 percent and 85 percent more for the first nine months of the year than during the 2008 presidential election.
"Political ad spending is at unprecedented levels," said David Amy, Sinclair's executive vice president and chief financial officer, in an Aug. 1 earnings release.
In Maryland this year, the gambling issue has far outpaced spending on other ballot questions, such as the same-sex marriage proposal and the Dream Act, which would allow some illegal immigrants to pay lower, in-state tuition at Maryland colleges and universities. Both are supported by a majority of Maryland residents, according to a poll released last month by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies.
Relatively little, meanwhile, has been spent by political candidates.
In the general election race for the Senate seat held by Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat, Rob Sobhani, a Montgomery County businessman running as an independent, became the first candidate to buy television ads. Since starting last month, Sobhani has spent $1.5 million of his own money for spots in the Baltimore and Washington markets. Republican challenger Dan Bongino has bought time as well, but Cardin started airing spots just this month.
WMAR's Hooper said he expects advertising to pick up on the same-sex marriage issue in the weeks before the election, but most of the money will continue to be spent on the gambling question.
"We won't," he added, "see anything from the presidential race."
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