NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- On popular spy drama "24," the clock is always ticking as hero Jack Bauer tries to thwart terrorists, bombs and other nasty threats to national security. Now the seconds are slipping away as Fox, the network that has broadcast the show for eight seasons, tries to secure high prices for commercials in the program's final episode.
News Corp.'s Fox is seeking $650,000 for a 30-second ad in the series finale of its popular spy drama "24," according to people familiar with the situation, a significant jump upward from the $200,000 to $280,000 the network was seeking during upfront negotiations. The network had only been asking for around $500,000 in the finale, one buyer said, but the price jumped after Fox announced late last week that this season would be "24's" last.
Fox's effort is another signal that TV networks are trying to leverage higher prices for content they can position as "events" that viewers will want to watch in communal fashion -- live -- rather than days or weeks later via DVR playback or digital viewing. Walt Disney's ABC has been out seeking around $900,000 for a 30-second commercial in its long-running adventure drama "Lost," the theory being droves of viewers will tune in May 23 to see how the program ties up any number of riddles and mysteries posed over the years.
The pushes behind higher prices for the finales of both "Lost" and "24" also show a new strain of salesmanship at play. In the past, the concept of a live "event" has largely been a live broadcast of an important sports match or an awards presentation. In the recent past, ratings for CBS's broadcast of this year's Super Bowl or ABC's telecast of the Oscars surged over year-earlier presentations, with the Super Bowl breaking the record for reaching the most viewers by a TV program. Advertisers happily pay top dollar to sponsor such content.
Now, TV networks appear to be looking to promote scripted series as worthy of similar attention. To be sure, series finales of popular shows always cost advertisers more money than "normal" episodes. But both "Lost" and "24" have seen their ratings erode over the long haul. In a media world where audiences for most specific pieces of content have thinned, programs that can lure a devoted throng eager to watch in real-time may have an increased edge over other fare.
Buyers suggested Fox would have been able to command even higher prices for the "24" finale had it made the announcement of the series' cancellation earlier. These buyers also said they suspected Fox may not have much inventory in the last episode to sell, owing to brisk sales in the so-called "scatter" market that have been going on for weeks. "Scatter" is ad inventory that is purchased close to air date, and broadcast and cable networks alike have been boasting of prices well above those negotiated during the upfront marketplace last year.
Fox will air the series finale of "24" as a two-hour programming block on Monday, May 24.
The show has made a mark in the industry. When it debuted in 2001, "24" broke convention by depicting events in real-time -- counter-terrorist agent Jack Bauer took on threats hour by hour over the course of a harrowing day. Over the course of its on-air tenure, Fox began running "24" in the second half of the season without a break in original episodes.
But its format wasn't the only eyebrow-raising element "24" brought to the screen. With its portrayals of U.S. presidents who were African-American, the show presaged the arrival of Barack Obama in the real-life White House. A female president has held the reins in the show's last two seasons. Fox's "24" also showed U.S. operatives making use of extremely harsh torture methods, just as some Americans have questioned whether military and national-security operatives should be able to do the same.
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