A couple of other points: First, the ad money stations get is not completely added revenue. That is, stations selling air time for political ads don’t simply add the political bucks to what they’re already getting from car dealers and drug companies. Some ad reshuffling (and dropping, in some cases) can be involved, offsetting some of the stations’ gains. (CJR’s Erika Fry will have more soon on this angle.)
Second, by law stations can’t mark up candidate ads, though they can—and do—charge outside groups whatever the market will bear.
While TV ads were the prime way candidates and outside groups reached primary voters here, they were not the only way. (The League of Conservation Voters alone, for example, said it made 20,000 phone calls to prompt people to vote against Holden.)
That said, this is no doubt a happy time for television station managers, who root-root-root for the contests. It’s also a less-than-pleasant time for viewers, who endure the ad barrage with little context or vetting.
Regardless of a person’s position on the ownership of public airwaves or the obligation of stations, there would seem to be little debate broadcast journalism can and should do better.