Answer Man: TV ads don't go as far as they used to

News-DemocratDecember 9, 2013 

When I was young, commercials on TV were said to pay for the programming and free TV. Today as I pay higher prices for cable TV, I wonder who benefits from all the ads we are still bombarded with? -- Sandy Boshkoff, of Granite City

Let me give you a quick lesson in reality television: It takes far more money than what you and satellite TV subscribers pay in monthly fees to keep hundreds of channels pumping out programs 24 hours a day.

Here's a quick example because it came to mind: Let's say a million St. Louis-area subscribers pay $50 a month in fees. That's $600 million a year. A lot of money, right? Not really. Even way back in 1998, NBC was paying $13 million PER EPISODE to keep ER on the air. And that's just one show.

Now, think of the thousands of writers, directors, cameramen, actors, set builders, etc., and all the equipment needed to produce all of the shows you choose from. But that's just the start.

Remember, a good chunk of your cable fee goes just to keep Charter, DirecTV, etc., in business. It's not just one guy sitting behind a control panel in his basement sending signals into your living room. You're paying for an army of employees along with all of the buildings and equipment needed to keep those systems going -- not to mention a little profit (hopefully) for shareholders.

In turn, they use a portion of your fee to pay individual channels and networks for the right to carry their signal. The amount depends on a channel's popularity. In 2011, for example, the New York Post reported that ESPN was charging $4.69 per subscriber while the lesser-watched ESPN2 commanded only 62 cents. (Remember in 2011 when DirecTV subscribers faced the loss of KMOV because the two companies couldn't come to terms over fees?)

But again remember that here, too, these fees represent only a percentage of what stations and networks need to stay on the air. They have to pay their employees and heat their buildings, too, so most have to sell advertising to help pay for 24 hours of interesting programming.

That's why you have to pay a stiff extra monthly premium for HBO and other channels with no commercials. Now think how much your cable bill would be if Charter charged such a fee for every channel. Methinks the commercials now may not seem so onerous.

What has happened to Maria LaRosa on "The Morning Rush" on the Weather Channel? -- Dale

I suppose if I find out, I had better call Maureen Marshall, don't you think?

"I was just looking at (Maria) a minute ago," the director of public relations at The Weather Channel said, laughing, when she took my call Monday morning. "She's here, and we love her. Wish all my questions were so easy."

So, for the moment at least, you still should be sharing your cup of joe with her from 6-9 a.m. Perhaps she had been on vacation or was temporarily under the weather. Or maybe she played hooky to play in the snow she loves so much.

"A big snowstorm has to be my favorite kind of weather," she writes on her Weather Channel bio page. "I love seeing these monsters develop, not to mention watching the snow fall down is beautiful and powerful all at the same time."

If you're interested, she grew up in Ramsey, N.J., and graduated in 1998 from Penn State with a Bachelor of Science degree in meteorology. She now lives in the Atlanta area with her husband and their three young sons.

"I chose weather as a career because weather is endlessly fascinating to me," said LaRosa, who loves math and science. "Trying to understand why weather systems behave the way they do, predicting what they will do next, and then watching how it all ultimately unfolds is incredibly interesting."

Her most memorable moment? Covering the F3 tornado that destroyed dozens of homes in Lebanon County, Pa., on July 14, 2004.

"I went up in the air to view from the air the damage," she said. "It was an amazing sight to see firsthand, and I will never forget it."

Today's trivia

Where would you find the country's oldest residential street?

Answer to Sunday's trivia: You've probably heard people say that life usually isn't like what you see in the movies. That's certainly true in the case of the von Trapp family. In "The Sound of Music," Georg and Maria von Trapp flee Austria over the Alps shortly after returning from their honeymoon. In reality, they married Nov. 26, 1927, and left their homeland by train for Italy in 1938. By that time they had added two more children -- Rosemarie (1928 or 1929) and Eleanor (1931) -- to Georg's seven from his first marriage. (His first wife, Agathe, had died in 1922 of scarlet fever.) A third, Johannes, came along in 1939 in Philadelphia. In the 1940s, they settled in Stowe, Vt., where Johannes and his son, Sam, continue to run the Trapp Family Lodge, a popular ski resort that opened in 1950.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or or call 618-239-2465.

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