From a Forbes report, earlier this year:
Clear Channel's consolidated businesses are struggling amid a sea of losses and a $19.9 billion debt load, meanwhile its largest revenue source, radio broadcasting, is a loss leader. Overall, the combined company is set to lose over $200 million in 2011 after notching $4 billion-plus annual losses during the recession.
And now comes the Limbaugh debacle. Like Fox News when it was hit with a sweeping advertising boycott of Glenn Beck's show (a boycott that eventually drove him off TV), Clear Channel executives are downplaying the impact of the current controversy. A company source told the New York Times that the advertising action had only cost the company $1 million per week in lost revenue, stressing the pain to the company's bottom line has been minimal. The source also suggested the company is simply taking advertisers who want off Limbaugh's show and finding spots for them on other Clear Channel programs.
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.
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