Funny Math? Clear Channel’s $3.9 Million Donation to the LAPD

Clear Channel billboard on Western Ave. is one of 12 slated to run public services ads for the LAPD.

Clear Channel billboard on Western Ave. is one of 12 slated to run public services ads for the LAPD.

(Update:  The item was pulled from the council agenda at Clear Channel’s request.  A spokesperson for the company said the multi-million dollar figure was the result of a clerical error, and the actual value of the donated billboard space was about $75,000.)

The Los Angeles City Council is expected to vote this Wednesday on accepting Clear Channel’s donation of space on 12 billboards for LAPD public safety messages. That space for ads running for five weeks is worth a total of $3,978,630, says Clear Channel, which has been heavily lobbying city councilmembers to allow more digital billboards on city streets and to grant amnesty to hundreds of billboards that don’t have permits or have been altered in violation of their permits.

Which means we’ll probably see Clear Channel’s busy PR machine touting the company’s public-spiritedness and generosity in making this donation. And that’s why city councilmembers might want to take a closer look at the numbers.

If that $3.98 million is the revenue Clear Channel would get from running commercial ads on those 12 billboards for five weeks, a simple calculation shows that a single billboard would bring in $331,552 for that period, or $3.45 million for a full year. Does the company really make that much from a single non-digital billboard?

In fact, the billboards aren’t the familiar billboards called “bulletins” that typically measure 14 by 48 ft., but a type called “posters” that measure only 12 by 25 ft. A look at the rates posted on Clear Channel’s website shows that the four-week cost for a poster in the Los Angeles area ranges from $660 to $750, which means that Clear Channel’s revenue from one of those signs would be less than $10,000 a year.

Clear Channel’s rates for full-size digital billboards aren’t posted on it’s website, but Lamar Advertising’s are, and a check of that company’s rates shows that the total cost to advertisers on one of those signs showing a rotation of six ads for eight seconds each would be $993,000. Still far less than the $3.45 million for a smaller, static billboard as claimed by Clear Channel.

But does it really matter? When the company is donating something worthwhile, should we quibble over whether a donation is worth almost $4 million or only $50,000? Should we be so cynical as to suggest that it’s all part of Clear Channel’s PR campaign?

You decide.

To see the City Council documents relating to the donation, click here.

Dennis Hathaway

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