Can Clear Channel Survive the Flight of Advertisers and Rush's $400 Million Payday?
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But the boycott is only in its third week and shows no signs of abating. Worse, Clear Channel pays Limbaugh an astounding $38 million annually, or approximately $750,000 each week. So right now, Clear Channel's paying Limbaugh $750,000 weekly for a show that's shedding $1 million from its bottom line every seven days.
With regards to shifting disgruntled advertisers onto other programs, here's the reality: there are a finite number of commercials spots in radio. If you take commercials off Limbaugh's program and shift them to another Clear Channel offering, you're simply bumping commercials that were already in place on the other program. Limbaugh's show sorely lacks national advertisers and moving sponsors onto other shows doesn't change that, nor does it make up for the lost Clear Channel revenue.
Another problem Limbaugh and Clear Channel face is the looming threat that some major talk news stations could drop Limbaugh in favor of Mike Huckabee's new national talk show, which begins to air in April and will compete against Limbaugh during the noon-to-three time slot. Huckabee's show is being syndicated by Cumulus Media Networks, whose parent company owns some of Limbaugh's most high-profile affiliates, such as WABC in New York, WLS in Chicago, and WMAL in Washington, D.C.
"With the flip of the switch they could take Rush off" major markets, says Cooke, a move he says would do permanent damage to Limbaugh's radio prestige.
Just consider the predicament Cumulus' WABC now faces, filling the dozens and dozens of ad spots each day with unpaid public service announcements. Since the controversy broke, WABC has aired hundreds of them during Limbaugh's show. And yes, Limbaugh's ratings on WABC were already down 37 percent from 2010. (In the New York metro area of approximately 20 million people, just 72,000 people tune into Limbaugh's show each day, according to Crains New York.)
"Talk radio is a business," stresses industry veteran and talk radio consultant Valerie Geller. "And when the money stops flowing, every station looks at every show."