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Local TV stations look forward to revenue boost from election, Olympics

A South Korean swimmer training at the Aquatics Centre at the Olympic Park in Stratford on Friday.

What a difference a year makes – if the year includes a presidential election and a Summer Olympics.

Local TV stations are poised for a big revenue bounce in 2012, fueled by spending on political ads and the advertising bonanza provided by two-plus weeks of Olympics coverage.

How big a bounce? About 10 percent, according to mid-year financial reports and analyst projections. The consulting firm BIA/Kelsey projects 2012 local TV revenues nationally at $19.7 billion, up from $17.9 billion last year.

That’s still down from pre-recession levels; in 2006, for example, local TV stations brought in nearly $23 billion. But it’s a big jump from the $15.8 billion stations booked in 2009, when the economic meltdown was in full swing and automakers – TV’s biggest group of advertisers – slashed spending dramatically.

Newspapers, meanwhile, continue to lose ad dollars. The contrast between the two legacy media is well illustrated by Gannett, which is both the nation’s largest newspaper publisher and a major player in local TV with 23 stations nationwide, including KARE-11 here in the Twin Cities.

In the second quarter, Gannett reported that ad revenue at its newspapers was down about 8 percent from a year ago. But TV ad revenue jumped about 11 percent from the previous year.

Many newspapers are successfully boosting their sources of non-advertising revenue. For example, the Star Tribune now gets more than 45 percent of its revenue from readers, rather than advertisers, according to Publisher Michael Klingensmith. Figures from the Newspaper Association of America suggest that the newspaper industry overall has boosted its non-advertising revenue by at least 50 percent over the last decade.

That’s not currently an option for local TV stations, unless they’re able to develop some kind of premium Web content that viewers would be willing to pay for. But with a big boost from our quadrennial preoccupations, local stations are at least gaining back some of the ground they lost during the financial spiral.

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