Last week the Federal Communications Commission ruled that stations affiliated with the top four national networks (ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox) and serve the top 50 markets must post “political file documents” online.
All stations— regardless of size— already have to maintain such files and make them available to the public. Stations balked at this rule, however, because they’re concerned that their competitors will be able to easily see revenues from political ads and overall rates charged. Here’s a snip from the Chicago Tribune story, “FCC passes online political ad rule: Stations will be required to post campaign spending info“:
For months, broadcasters have objected to the new rule, arguing that even though they already must disclose it, posting it online would give competitors access to commercially sensitive rate information. Broadcasters last week had proposed a compromise to instead post a campaign’s total ad buy, rather than specific information on the exact amount paid per ad. Stations are required to sell candidates time at the lowest unit rate.
We hear these kinds of arguments all the time, and they feel more and more like the fading bleats of lambs. There is a brutal efficiency to spreadsheeting rates for ad time. We’ve all experienced the pain of hidden truths in markets (no one else really wants the house you’re bidding on, the car dealership is about to stop selling that Dodge Dart, the grocer is about to throw out those tomatoes anyway). People make bank off of knowledge gaps, and closing them can be scary. Let’s go ahead and be scared for a while.
It was interesting to see the FCC struggle with requiring stations to post in a standard format for reporting this data. Here’s snips:
We will not establish specific formatting requirements for documents posted to the online public file at this time. Some commenters promoted making the data well-structured as searchable as possible, and downloadable.
We agree that certain information in the public file would be of much greater benefit to the public if made available in a structured or database-friendly format that can be aggregated, manipulated, and more easily analyzed; this continues to be our ultimate goal.
This is evidence of growing pains inside this particular industry that are repeated nearly everywhere else. We can expect that wily stations may upload their documents in non-searchable PDFs so that they can comply with the rule while making analysis as difficult as possible.
One day at a time.