ATLANTA—Georgia voters have suffered through an extra dose of political ads because of Tuesday’s U.S. Senate runoff, and their pain has meant extra profit for WSB-TV, the station that has seen more money pass through it in 2022 than any other in the nation.
More than $86 million in political advertising flowed into the ABC affiliate so far this year, according to data from the ad tracker AdImpact. It is a windfall generated by a confluence of high-profile races for governor and U.S. Senate, including the bonus of the runoff between Democratic Sen.
“Not only did they have multiple competitive races, but then they got a whole extra bite at the apple” with the runoff race, said
a polling and political analyst who has done academic research on campaign advertising.
It is the second year in a row Georgia TV stations have benefited from that second bite. Mr. Warnock was first elected in a January 2021 runoff that featured heavy spending, following a wave of 2020 general election outlays on the senatorial and presidential races.
Over a period that includes the 2021 and 2022 runoffs, from Jan. 1, 2020, through Nov. 28, 2022, WSB-TV took in close to $232 million in political advertising, again significantly more than any station in the nation, AdImpact data shows. WSB-TV is the flagship television property of Atlanta-based Cox Media Group, which owns TV and radio stations in several states, and didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Among the five largest-grossing TV stations for political ads during the multiyear period, three came from Atlanta, according to AdImpact. The other two were in Phoenix and Detroit.
For 2022, the second-highest recipient is the NBC affiliate KSNV-TV in Las Vegas, which attracted $59.7 million, AdImpact data shows. Like Georgia, Nevada was home to competitive races for both the U.S. Senate and the governorship.
KSNV-TV didn’t respond to inquiries seeking comment. A spokeswoman for Mr. Warnock’s campaign said it doesn’t comment on spending, while a spokesman and spokeswoman for Mr. Walker didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Nationwide, AdImpact said about $8.9 billion has been spent so far by candidates and outside groups trying to influence local, state and federal elections. That compares with about $4 billion in the 2018 midterm cycle and about $9 billion in the 2020 presidential cycle. With the final burst in Georgia, the total for this year’s midterm might surpass the spending in the last presidential cycle.
The largess from the campaigns has crowded out many regular businesses trying to advertise in Georgia, while also driving up costs, said
co-founder of the Nebo Agency, an Atlanta-based advertising firm.
Mr. Easter said that in this year’s general election, the senate campaigns—along with other races—pushed prices for television spots and digital spending to historic highs in Georgia. “They weren’t blinking an eye about spending,” he said.
Now in the runoff, only Messrs. Warnock and Walker and their allies are spending on political ads, but those dollars are coming when there is already normally heavy ad spending. “The runoff is colliding with the holiday spend,” Mr. Easter said.
While the contest between Georgia Republican Gov.
didn’t end up being that competitive—the incumbent won by more than 7 percentage points—the online fundraising prowess of Ms. Abrams brought a lot of money into the race.
“That money had to get spent someplace, and it got spent on television,” Mr. Goldstein said. “It made a marginally competitive governor’s race generate activity like it was a very competitive race.”
Georgia voters on both sides of the political aisle expressed exasperation at the deluge of advertising, much of it negative, on their TV sets, radios, smartphones and laptops.
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38, who works in Georgia’s growing television and film industry, voted at an early-voting station in heavily Democratic Atlanta recently. He made up his mind on whom he was voting for months ago, and the barrage of advertising did nothing to sway him, he said. Ads appeared in the mail and on regular television, the internet, streaming services and his smartphone.
“I know who I am going to vote for,” said Mr. Ponticello. “None of the advertising is changing anything. It is a waste of money. It is just noise.”
46, who voted early for Mr. Walker in Dallas, Ga., northwest of Atlanta, said the relentless political ads interrupted her evening TV viewing.
“We watch ‘Jeopardy’ and look forward to it, and all that ruined it,” she said, adding that she and her husband quickly switch to another station when political commercials come on.
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