For many TV viewers, the political ads that invade the airwaves every four years inspire one fantasy: picking up a brick and firing it Randy Johnson-style at the middle of the television screen.
But for companies that own and operate TV stations, political ads are like angels from on high, sprinkling dollar signs and profits like so much fairy dust.
Those dollar signs come in the form of ad revenue -- and lots of it.
According to estimates cited by AdWeek, total TV spending on political ads in the U.S. was expected to reach nearly $3.4 billion in 2012 with local TV accounting for as much as $2.8 billion of the total.
Both numbers are records and represent a huge increase from the 2008 presidential election year.
Among the beneficiaries isSinclair Broadcast ( SBGI ), one of the nation's largest TV-station operators.
Sinclair operates more than 80 TV stations, including affiliates of all the major networks. Its signals reach more than one-quarter of all U.S. households.
During the third quarter, Sinclair rang up $27.8 million in political ad revenue. That compares with only $2.4 million a year earlier.
The company expects roughly double that amount in political ad revenue for the fourth quarter.
"For Q4, Sinclair expects political (ad revenue) to be $54 million to $56 million, nearing-to-surpassing what it garnered in all of 2008," JPMorgan analyst Alexia Quadrani noted in a third-quarter earnings report.
Sinclair's annual revenue in 2012 is expected to top $1 billion for the first time in the company's history. Last year, Sinclair logged $765 million in revenue.
Political ad spending isn't the only growth driver for TV operators.
They also have benefited from ad spending on the London Olympics in August and a resurgence in ad spending by automakers.
"It's really a perfect storm for local television," Douglas Arthur, media analyst with Evercore Partners, told IBD in a recent interview.
In fact, Sinclair officials are quick to point out the company's strong recent financial returns are not just due to the 2012 presidential, congressional, state and local elections.
"Despite increased demand for air time by politicians and political action groups, the core business showed solid growth. On a same station basis, excluding political, net broadcast revenue grew 6.9% in the third quarter," Chief Executive David Smith said in a statement following his company's Q3 earnings report.
Sinclair reported total revenue of $260 million during the quarter. That was up 44% from the prior year and above Wall Street estimates for $256 million.
The company has delivered three straight quarters of 22%-or-better revenue growth, ending a run of four straight quarters of single-digit gains or declines. Top-line growth has accelerated each of the last four quarters.
In addition to robust political ad revenue during the third quarter, "auto net broadcasting revenue was strong, up 12%, and telecom finally rebounded, also up 12%," analyst Quadrani noted.
Earnings for the quarter came in at 36 cents a share, excluding special items. That was up from 24 cents a year earlier and slightly above views for 35 cents. Sinclair has grown earnings in double digits in eight of the last nine quarters.
The company also declared a special dividend of $1 in addition to its regular quarterly dividend of 15 cents.
Meanwhile, Sinclair's stock price hit a 5-1/2-year high of 12.84 on Dec. 21. Shares are up more than 70% since mid-June.
Although Sinclair won't have the benefit of large political and Olympics ad revenue in 2013, the company is still expected to grow the top line thanks to its recently closed buyout of seven TV stations from Newport Television.
That deal, valued at $460 million, closed Dec. 3. It brought aboard the following stations: WKRC in Cincinnati, Ohio; WOAI in San Antonio, Texas, WHP in Harrisburg, Pa., WPMI and WJTC in Mobile, Ala., KSAS in Wichita, Kan. and WHAM in Rochester, N.Y.
The company also acquired Newport's rights under local marketing agreements with WLYH in Harrisburg, Pa., and KMTW in Wichita, Kan., as well as options to acquire the license assets.
Other recent deals include Sinclair's announcement to spend $12.5 million on the nonlicense assets of KBTV, the FOX affiliate in the Beaumont/Port Arthur, Texas, market, where Sinclair also owns the CBS station.
The company also agreed to sell its ABC station, WLAJ, in Lansing, Mich., for $14.4 million.
In early January 2012, Sinclair closed its acquisition of Four Points Media from affiliates of Cerberus Capital Management for $200 million. That deal brought aboard a total of seven TV stations in Utah, Texas, Florida and Massachusetts.
Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expect Sinclair to post full-year 2012 earnings of $1.64 a share, a gain of 69% from 2011. However, they see profit dipping to $1.33 a share in 2013.