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Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Companies/ Industries -

Dur­ing a break in a March tap­ing of Wheel of For­tune, a child in the au­di­ence asked the show’s an­nouncer, Jim Thorn­ton, what hap­pens in be­tween rounds of play. Thorn­ton was ready with an an­swer: “When we go to com­mer­cial, we make money!” That’s more true than ever this year, thanks to a dra­matic in­crease in ad­ver­tis­ing by pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns and their al­lied su­per PACS. Wheel at­tracted $17.8 mil­lion in political ads through March 1. “We’re re­li­able,” says long­time ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Harry Fried­man. “Our view­ers are very loyal. We’re fam­ily friendly.”

This cy­cle’s cam­paign spend­ing on air­time dur­ing Wheel will eas­ily ex­ceed the $57 mil­lion it earned in 2012, more than any other TV show that elec­tion. So far, it’s brought in seven times more than at this point in 2012, ac­cord­ing to es­ti­mates by Kan­tar Me­dia’s Cam­paign Me­dia Anal­y­sis Group (CMAG), which tracks political ad­ver­tis­ing. The next top earner was NBC’S To­day, with $54 mil­lion, fol­lowed by $50 mil­lion for Jeop­ardy!, which, like Wheel, is pro­duced by Sony Pic­tures. Most of the 2012 spend­ing came in the last weeks be­fore the gen­eral elec­tion.

Can­di­dates, su­per PACS, and other political groups bought more than 13,600 spots on Wheel from Jan. 1, 2015, through March 1 of this year. The vol­ume of political ads has crowded out other com­mer­cials in pri­mary states. Dur­ing the episode that aired on WHO-TV in Des Moines the Fri­day be­fore the Feb. 1 Iowa cau­cuses, six min­utes of the seven min­utes and eight sec­onds of ads that ran were political, ac­cord­ing to CMAG.

De­mo­graph­ics ex­plain why cam­paigns tar­get the show. The av­er­age viewer is 50 years old, and 70 per­cent say they al­ways vote, ac­cord­ing to Bor­rell As­so­ciates, which fol­lows me­dia trends. Last year an av­er­age of 29 mil­lion peo­ple tuned into Wheel each week, ac­cord­ing to Nielsen. The next most pop­u­lar syn­di­cated show was Jeop­ardy!, with 26 mil­lion. “Like news, we’re on daily,” says Fried­man. “Very few of our view­ers record the show for play later. We’re still ap­point­ment tele­vi­sion.”

Wheel is syn­di­cated to lo­cal af­fil­i­ates, which sell about 80 per­cent of the show’s com­mer­cial time. The rest is sold by its dis­trib­u­tor, CBS Global Dis­tri­bu­tion Group, which last year re­newed the show into 2018 in more than 200 lo­cal mar­kets. “The political ad spend­ing is part of the pitch” when the show is sold to lo­cal sta­tions, says Ar­mando Nuñez, pres­i­dent of the dis­trib­u­tor. “It al­ways has been. But over the years it’s ob­vi­ously got­ten more im­por­tant as the amount of money

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