January 05, 2013 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver
Smaller media markets across America are where newly minted TV journalists get their start. Often earning $10 an hour, working multiple jobs and long hours at the station, their lives aren’t glamorous.
If you live in an area with a population less than 400,000, chances are good that you’ve seen a few excellent local television newscasters — who later went on to the networks — but you also are occasionally treated to “on-air talent” so bad that you reached for the remote to change channels, asking yourself, “How did that person ever get hired? Who in his right mind would put her in front of a camera?”
While this can be mildly amusing to viewers, for advertisers it isn’t the least bit funny.
It certainly wasn’t for Jesse when his home phone began to ring non-stop during one 6 p.m. newscast in early December. Jesse lives in Northern California.
“I was getting phone calls from employees and customers of my mattress company, all telling me to turn on the news, warning that I was going to be upset, and to try and not overreact. So I switched on the TV, and could not believe what I saw and heard. It didn’t take long before I was actually yelling at the television!” he told You and the Law.
“They had two new people on the news set, an anchor who couldn’t read even one news story without tripping over her words, and a weathercaster who sounded and acted like a boy going through puberty! His voice cracked! He was a wimp — more than a wimp, he was super wimp — not an ounce of confidence, seemingly terrified of the camera. If someone came up to him and said “boo!” he would have fainted!
“I have seen newscasters who committed flub after flub, which was not only funny but generated sympathy from viewers, but this was different. It wasn’t funny in a “ha ha” sense. It was plain irritating to the point that even I wanted to change channels. But I had to watch the entire broadcast, as this guy also did sports, and our commercials aired throughout the newscast.”
My first time advertising on TV — I want out!
“I was just sick, seeing my advertising dollars fly right out the window, as it was obvious viewers would be changing channels. This was the first time for us to advertise on TV and there were four months left to run on a very expensive ad package. Before that newscast, they had very competent people on the air, and then these two come along! I was pulling out my hair. We had to get out of that contract.”
Jesse immediately contacted his sales rep, but instead of helping, they told him, “The station has a right to select the talent it wants to put on the air, and we will hold you to the terms of the contract, which is non-cancelable.”
“This can’t be right,” Jesse said. “I don’t expect the TV station to fire the newscasters, but it isn’t fair to pay for our company being associated with these embarrassing newscasters. What can someone in my situation do?”
Jesse then scanned and emailed us the contract which he either did not understand or had not carefully read, as would soon become clear.
Industry standard: Two weeks notice to cancel
We ran Jesse’s situation by sales managers at television stations in both Los Angeles and San Diego, forwarding Jesse’s contract — with his permission — and received virtually identical comments and recommendations. In summary, we were told:
“Yes, your reader should be able to easily cancel his contract, regardless of what the sales rep has told him. Advertising on radio or TV is influenced by factors which can change overnight, from a station’s ratings, to their losing a popular talk show program, sports team or new people delivering the evening news.
“For that reason, it is an industry standard in radio and television advertising, and generally appears in contracts, for advertisers — with some limitations — to provide two weeks notice of their intention to cancel and no reason need be stated. It is important for anyone thinking of advertising on TV or radio to have such a term in their contract — to add it if necessary — just to be sure you have that protection.”
When all else fails, read the contract
Both advertising managers felt that Jesse needed to bypass the sales rep and speak directly with management at the TV station. “There is so much that can be done and you never want to lose a customer, so if the rep seems unreasonable, simply go higher up,” was their advice.
And Jesse’s contract? Hidden in one page-long paragraph captioned, “Billing and Payments” was this sentence:
“Contracts are subject to cancellation upon two weeks prior notice.”
We gently pointed that out to our reader.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.