Football and 'Big Bang' Are Broadcast TV's Most Expensive Ad Buys

AMC's 'The Walking Dead' Is the Most Expensive Scripted Series

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Click to view the 2014 TV ad pricing chart

TV's costliest shows this season are the ones that have a preponderance of live viewership.

Football continues to dominate as the most expensive programming for advertisers, with NBC's "Sunday Night Football" and CBS' "Thursday Night Football" coming in No. 1 and No. 2 in broadcast, respectively, on Ad Age's annual pricing survey.

On average, advertisers pay $627,300 for a 30-second spot in "Sunday Night Football," up about 6% from last season's cost.

CBS has a new addition to the broadcast top 10, acquiring the rights to air eight "Thursday Night Football" games this season. Commercial time in those games average $483,333.

It's a trend that's consistent with the last several years -- advertisers are willing to pay more for programming that's watched live as more viewership takes place on a delayed basis.

Fox's "American Idol" historically has ranked among the top two most expensive shows on broadcast prime time. This season the reality singing competition is being revamped and Fox has yet to announce how it will live on the winter schedule. While "Idol" will air on both Wednesday and Thursday night, it may not run twice a week for the entire season, a network spokeswoman said.

Many media agencies surveyed have not yet placed orders for commercial time in "Idol," so it doesn't appear on our pricing chart, but the few that have are averaging about $243,200 for 30 seconds of commercial time in the Wednesday episode and $225,667 in the Thursday episode, with some still paying more than $300,000. That would put "Idol" in the broadcast top 10 again, at No. 7 and No. 9.

CBS's "The Big Bang Theory" is the most expensive entertainment program on broadcast, averaging $344,827. It's consistently the highest-rated comedy, with the one-hour season premiere this week watched by an average of 17.2 million people.

But the priciest scripted series is actually on cable, with AMC's "Walking Dead" costing advertisers upwards of $400,000 for a package of spots.

There are several cable programs that challenge broadcast as the most expensive in which to buy commercial time, including ESPN's "Monday Night Football," which costs about $400,000. But it's difficult to compare many cable ad packages to those of broadcast because cable often includes multiple airings and repeats of a show.

NBC's sophomore series "The Blacklist" is a newcomer to the broadcast top 10, debuting at No. 4, costing advertisers $282,975 on average for a 30-second spot, up 40% from last season.

"The Voice" drops to No. 5 among broadcast rivals, followed by its results show at No. 6. The NBC singing competition averaged $274,157 on Monday night and $253,840 during the Tuesday results show.

Ad Age's survey is compiled using data from as many as seven media-buying agencies. (See our 2013 TV ad pricing chart here.) The resulting prices should be viewed as directional indicators and are not the actual price that every advertiser pays for a 30-second spot. The numbers are based on a range of agency estimates that can vary depending on the amount of inventory purchased from a network, the inclusion of any nontraditional advertising such as product placements, and the relationship an advertiser and media-buying agency has with a network. Most TV advertising is typically purchased as part of larger negotiations, not on a one-off basis.

These estimates also reflect the prices advertisers and networks agreed on in this year's upfront marketplace. Prices have likely changed for those wishing to buy a spot closer to the air date in the so-called "scatter" market.

NBC's "State of Affairs" is another new addition coming in at No. 8 among the broadcast competition. The series also holds the title as the most expensive new show this season, averaging $219,188 for a 30-second spot.

The peacock network now claims five of broadcast TV's 10 costliest shows, a recognition that went to Fox last year. This season, Fox has just one show – "Sleepy Hollow" -- in the broadcast top 10. Both "New Girl" and "The Simpsons" were bumped after coming in at No. 8 and No. 9 last year.

Another newcomer is ABC's "Scandal" at No. 9 for broadcast with an average of $217,546.

Of those returning shows, 21 have seen the cost for ad time decrease, while another 20 have seen increases and 14 have remained relatively steady.

ABC's "Modern Family" saw a meaningful decline in pricing, down 15% to $239,650 from last season and dropping one spot to No. 7 from No. 6 last year.

But the biggest price decline hit another ABC series, "Grey's Anatomy." In its 11th season, the cost for a 30-second spot fell 27% to $149,523.

Other big decliners include ABC's "Once Upon a Time," which saw prices drop 21% to $136,538; Fox' "Family Guy," which is down 23% to $158,400; and CBS's "Two and a Half Men," which in its final season declined 20% to average $147,140.

Fox's "Sleepy Hollow" is the biggest gainer of the season, with its average cost surging 47% to $202,500.

Other noteworthy gainers include NBC's "Grimm," which shot up 40% to $118,818; ABC's "Shark Tank," which increased 37% to $109,878; and CBS's "The Good Wife," which gained 24% to average $87,210.

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