City Desk

Albritton Advertising Runs Amok!

Monday was, indeed, an exciting day to toil away in the unique salt mine that is the D.C. local media world; across the Potomac in Rosslyn, the crew at TBD got into the game after months of Twittering. Besides their new website, TBD also took over the name and iconography at NewsChannel 8, the 24-hour cable channel also operated by Allbritton Communications, owners of WJLA-TV and Politico as well as the new venture. Effective immediately, the cable channel is now TBD TV.

Which made the subject line on today's edition of Politico's Playbook a little surprising. "POLITICO Playbook, presented by Washington's NewsChannel 8—Obama links higher ed. to economy in speech at UT—Petraeus plans three-week network blitz—Justice makes deal with BP—Dan Reilly to Hoyer—TBD launches—Burton is 3-3," the morning tipsheet by Mike Allen announced. The e-mail had, apparently, been sponsored by a TV station, owned by Politico's owners, that no longer existed—as the e-mail itself went on to proclaim.

"LIFTOFF—TBD—Allbritton’s new cable channel and website covering greater D.C.—went online at 4:15 a.m. and on the air at 5 a.m.," Allen wrote. (Prompting me, I will admit, to put my BlackBerry down and take my coffee back upstairs to my laptop to check it out.) The ad by NewsChannel 8 came later in Playbook:

** A message from Washington's NewsChannel 8: If the Comcast and NBC merger is approved as is, our country risks losing a powerful part of our democracy—locally-owned, independent voices in markets where Comcast/NBC will control both access to the home and multiple channels of news. Dropping the independent news voice won’t serve the consumer—only the cable company which would also own the other news channels. Let’s make sure that any merger approval serves the public interest and protects the local news consumers you represent. **

A Politico spokeswoman, Kim Kingsley, says NewsChannel 8 bought Playbook for the entire week, which reportedly comes with a $15,000 bill. She didn't reply when I asked whether tomorrow's e-mail would be sponsored by TBD TV, the station's new name.

All that raises questions on two fronts. First, the branding. Why buy a high-profile ad under a name you just ditched that very morning? Even if the ad is switched to TBD TV tomorrow, Allbritton still missed a chance to market its new unified field theory of local media on the day it launched. For that matter, why use the ad for an anodyne message against the Comcast/NBC merger, instead of pitching the new TBD venture?

Second, the economics. Allbritton owns TBD, or NewsChannel 8, or whatever you want to call the entity that apparently dumped $15,000 of its marketing budget into sponsoring Playbook this week. Allbritton also owns Politico, which means one arm of the company collected that $15,000 check after another one wrote it. No wonder Allbritton execs say Politico is making a profit.

(Here at Washington City Paper, we're now brainstorming all sorts of new ways for house ads to show up as revenue on our books. Look for results in the next fiscal year!)

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