When the boycott began to pressure companies not to advertise on the Rush Limbaugh show, I said on my Facebook page that while it’s cool to see the effort I couldn’t imagine that it could actually make much of a difference. But it appears that the number of companies demanding removal of their ads from the show is putting a serious dent in the show’s income.
Limbaugh actually explained on his show recently how the ads work and he was telling the truth. Premiere Radio Networks sells the show to local radio stations for a fee. Some of the ads heard during the show are local (sold by the radio stations, which is how they make money on it) and some are national (sold by Premiere, which is one of the two revenue streams they make on the show — the other being fees from the stations for the right to air it). So when the boycott began, a lot of the companies that announced that they were pulling their ads weren’t actually advertising nationally, they were buying ads on local stations. And they were often buying ad packages on the station for a certain number of ads during the day, not necessarily buying ads specifically to air during Rush’s show. That means that, when you combine both levels, there were literally hundreds of companies, from huge national companies to local pizza places and such, with ads airing during his show.
But what started as a trickle has turned into a flood. The number of companies pulling their ads or demanding that they not air during his particular show has grown to more than 140 and it includes a lot of major heavy hitters, including IBM, Visa, Subway, Sony and many more. Which explains why many of those national ad spots are now filled by free public service announcements. And it explains why Premiere is now suspending some of its national ads for two weeks, allowing local stations to sell that ad time instead. ThinkProgress has the internal memo sent to all the affiliate stations that air the show.
There’s no way they’d be airing PSAs instead of commercials if they had commercials to air; Rush has a $400 million contract and that requires serious ad revenue in order to pay. And there’s no way they’d let the local affiliates sell ads if they could sell them nationally. I suspect the two week suspension was done to buy some time to convince some of those companies to come back. So despite Rush’s on-air bluster about how the boycott hasn’t hurt him a bit, it clearly has hurt the show’s profitability.
Will it mean the end for him? Of course not. But I wouldn’t be shocked if, at some point, he ends up moving to satellite radio the way Howard Stern and Dr. Laura did. That avoids the advertiser problem entirely.