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TWC’s Political Files Are Open Book

Washington — While broadcasters continue to fight
having to put their political-ad spot prices in a national
online database, saying it puts them at a competitive disadvantage
against cable systems and other competitors for
political dollars, the second-largest MSO has been putting
its political-ad prices online for the past year.

The Sunlight Foundation is a big supporter of the Federal
Communications Commission’s April decision to
require the top 200 network affiliates to start sending political
files — including who bought what ads and at what
price — to the FCC so it could post them in a database on
the agency’s website.

Sunlight blogged about recently discovering Time
Warner Cable Media’s online political file of scheduled
political ads with a link that Multichannel News clicked
to do some virtual comparison shopping.

“If posting already-public information on political ad
spending is so damaging to broadcasters,
as the National Association of Broadcasters
argues, then why has one of the country’s
biggest cable providers been doing it
since 2010?” Sunlight Foundation reporter
Kennan Steiner said.

A quick check of other cable firms
found no other operator providing a similar
service. Comcast, Charter Communications
and Cablevision Systems, for example,
do not, according to spokesmen.

Time Warner Cable spokesman Alex
Dudley told Sunlight the cable operator
put the information online because that
was an “easier, cheaper and better” way
to handle such data, including for complying
with audits. The FCC requires TV
stations and cable operators to keep paper
public political files, and the commission
does periodic audits.

The agency has only required TV stations,
not cable operators, to post publicly
available political files online (the
FCC posts them on the agency’s website).
Broadcasters have said the requirement
puts them at a competitive disadvantage
with their cable ad-sales rivals.

The FCC’s July 2011 white paper on
the information needs of communities
recommended specifically that material
broadcasters must make publicly available
be posted online and not kept in paper

That white paper also explained that
the agency has required TV stations to
record and make available records about
requests to buy ad time on behalf of candidates
since 1938, so that competing
candidates could track their opponents’
buying strategies and look for equal-opportunity

Time Warner Cable’s Dudley said the
company has posted political-ad purchase
information online nationally since
2011. “We feel that not only does it make
sense for us from a reporting and compliance
point of view, but that it is also very
popular with our clients.”

The FCC site is searchable by the name
of the buyer — for example, the Americans
for Prosperity Political Action Committee
or the Obama campaign — and
provides PDFs of the scheduled buys,
prices and all.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.