Washington (AP) When the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) started probing ad companies over their tactics in buying out local TV stations in 2013, it made a startling finding: Nearly one-third of those companies were owned by large corporations.
In addition to its direct mail operations, AdSense and AdRoll had been lobbying to buy out stations.
A handful of smaller ad companies, like PPP and Spreaker, also did the same, according to public records obtained by The Washington Post.
Now, it’s clear that all three were trying to control the media landscape by buying out media outlets that they didn’t like, or in some cases had lobbied against.
In the process, they bought out nearly every major local TV station in the country, a phenomenon that’s become known as the “buyout machine.”
Now, as the FTC looks to find out if the buyout business is legal, it also is trying to determine if it has played a role in other instances of political influence, such as buying out newspapers that published controversial content and the radio stations that aired ads to push a political message.
And it’s starting to probe whether the ad companies actually do their jobs.
For years, the FTC has asked the industry’s top lobbying groups to help identify and investigate cases of political bias in ad sales.
The commission’s investigation into AdSense, a company that sells advertising for Google and other platforms, began in December and is expected to wrap up next month.
The FTC said in a statement that it has not yet concluded whether the companies violated any rules by buying stations they did not like.
It is working with state attorneys general and other public interest groups to find other examples.
The agency said the purchase of stations by AdSense “is likely not a violation of any applicable laws” because it doesn’t directly influence or control the content of the stations.
But in a report published Wednesday, the commission found that some of the AdSense stations were owned and operated by powerful corporations, including: -The General Electric Co., which bought stations that promoted its products, including refrigerators, washing machines and washing machines for seniors, and made them available for free in its stores.
-Verizon Communications Inc., which owns about 90 percent of AdSense.
-GraphicAds Inc., a company owned by General Electric that produces ads that feature photos of cats that can be purchased for $20.
-AdMob Inc., owned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which buys ads for its businesses and sells them to advertisers.
In its report, the Federal Election Commission also cited the purchase by General Motors Co. of a local station owned by RadioOne, a station owned and owned by Verizon, and the purchase or takeover of a station by the National Federation of Independent Business, which owns a radio station in Columbus, Ohio.
All three companies are members of the National Association of Broadcasters, which represents broadcasters and is lobbying for change.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, said in September that the merger of the TV stations and radio stations, known as mergers, could increase the amount of money in politics.
“In the next few years, we’re going to have a huge amount of consolidation in the media industry, and we’re seeing it happening all over the country,” he said at a press conference.
“I think this is going to be the beginning of the end of that.”
In a letter to Pai, the National Alliance for Fair Media, a group of TV stations that represents advertisers, called the merger “a blatant and unlawful attempt to acquire a radio network and a local TV channel.”
Pai said he was “unaware of any other examples of the merger in this country.”
He said the FCC is looking into the situation.
Pai said the merger has been “intended to ensure that the interests of broadcasters and other organizations are aligned and that there is no concentration of media power in any one market.”
But in an interview with The Washington Review, AdRoll CEO and co-founder Andrew Meldrum said he is “confident that AdSense is a legitimate, fair and ethical way to promote the platform.”
Meldram said he expects the FTC to look into the AdMob case.
“We believe that the case has merit,” he wrote.
“AdMob has consistently been the best-selling and most-profitable station on the platform, and has enjoyed strong customer support from our ad-powered audience and advertisers.
We also believe that AdMob is in a strong position to offer advertisers the highest-quality and competitive ads to reach their audiences.”
The FCC declined to comment.
The investigation is not the first time the commission has investigated the merger.
In a 2014 report, Pai criticized the merger as “a cynical and cynical scheme by the owners of TV channels and radio networks to get a monopoly in the advertising market.”
Pai has also called for a complete overhaul of the FCC, including ending the agency’s oversight of the media. He said