What NBC Gave Up in Ad Pricing for 'Leno' Prime-Time Show

Ad Age Chart Details Difference in 30-Second Spot Prices in '09 vs. '08

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Nothing may illustrate the risk inherent in NBC's much-scrutinized launch of "The Jay Leno Show" than a hard look at the drop in ad prices the General Electric network managed to get in the program's time slot this season.

'The Jay Leno Show'
'The Jay Leno Show' Credit: NBC
A 30-second spot in "Jay Leno" costs between an average of $48,803 (Friday nights) and $65,678 (Tuesday nights), according to Advertising Age's annual survey of ad prices for the broadcast networks' prime-time shows, negotiated during the upfront TV market. In contrast, NBC was able to secure ad prices of between $78,000 (for "Lipstick Jungle") and $146,679 for programs that aired in its 10 p.m. slot Monday through Friday in the 2008-2009 programming season.

Indeed, NBC's weekday prime-time ad prices in the 10 p.m. slot have slumped across the week. "Leno" commands an average of $53,640 for a 30-second ad on Monday nights; last season, "My Own Worst Enemy," a scripted adventure drama starring Christian Slater, commanded an average of $98,909.

On Tuesday nights, "Leno" gets an average of $65,678 for a 30-second ad; last season, "Law & Order: SVU" commanded an average of $146,679 (and, it's worth mentioning, "SVU" this season commands only an average of $101,632 on Wednesday evenings at 9 p.m.).

On Wednesday nights, a 30-second spot on "Leno" averages $62,012; last season, "Lipstick Jungle" cost an average of $78,000, while its mid-season replacement, "Law & Order," cost an average of $135,474.

It's no 'ER'
For the once-mighty Thursday night, "Leno" brings in an average of $57,295; last season, the venerable "ER" cost an average of $110,049, and "Celebrity Apprentice" commanded an average of $147,800 (and, it's worth noting, "Apprentice" is commanding an average of $110,283 on Sundays this season).

On Fridays, "Leno" is getting an average of $48,803; last season, "Life" commanded an average of $86,948.

Now, one might make the argument that, ad-sales shortfalls aside, NBC used sound judgment; except for the "Law & Order" dramas and "Celebrity Apprentice," everything else that aired at 10 p.m. last season has been cancelled. If NBC is in the midst of a less-than-spectacular programming streak, then "Leno" is certainly more stable and cost-conscious than launching dramas on the order of "My Own Worst Enemy" or "Lipstick Jungle" only to have to take them off the air and hope advertisers will want to continue to support their replacements at similar price levels.

And there's some indication ad buyers are already working with NBC to play "Leno" to the maximum advantage. One senior media-buying executive suggested that advertisers could put more weight against "Leno" when rival networks are in repeats. Unlike scripted dramas, which typically run about 22 episodes a season, "Leno" is original year-round.

This media-buying executive also suggested the comedy gab-fest stands to perform better against rivals in the summer season, which has less original programming available during broadcast prime time.

Even so, NBC has "lost 30% of its viewers in the 10 p.m. time slot year-over-year given the switch to Jay Leno," suggested a recent research note by Wells Fargo Securities.

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