NBC's 10 p.m. Ad-Pricing Power Still in Question

Leno's Gone, but Time Slot Hasn't Regained Lost Ground on Most Nights

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Jay Leno has left NBC's 10 p.m. time slot behind but the damage the network caused by putting him there appears to be lingering, despite a phalanx of new programs the Peacock has launched in that time period.

Jay Leno
Jay Leno Credit: NBC
NBC's ad prices for its 10 p.m. shows have improved on all weeknights since Mr. Leno was restored to his 11:35 p.m. perch at "Tonight Show," according to data compiled by Advertising Age in our exclusive annual survey of broadcast TV prices. But the network has -- except for one night -- yet to reclaim the prices it was getting for ad time at 10 p.m. in the 2008-2009 TV season, the year before the network sparked a contretemps by replacing its dramas in that time slot with a more cost-effective program featuring the popular comedian.

To be sure, any comparison of ad prices takes place as the large broadcast networks face ratings erosion on the whole. The average ad prices for many shows have tumbled since the 2008-09 season, according to the Ad Age survey. CBS's average ad prices at 10 p.m. have on most week nights fallen since 2008, although Thursday nights have increased since that time. At ABC, average ad prices at 10 p.m. are a mixed bag: up on two nights, down on two nights and more or less flat on Fridays. Even so, CBS and ABC's average ad prices at 10 p.m. remain higher than those of NBC. And NBC made its 10 p.m. strategy a matter of special interest with its attempt to replace dramas, which are both expensive to produce and to buy time during, in that slot with "Leno" last year.

NBC sold Mr. Leno's "Jay Leno Show" differently than the rest of its prime-time schedule last year, partly in recognition that the five-night-a-week talk show would not attract as many viewers as the crime and medical dramas that are so much a part of what viewers can see at 10 p.m. on ABC and CBS. As such, ad prices fell noticeably, with Mr. Leno's program securing average prices ranging from $48,803 (Friday nights) to $65,678 (Tuesday nights). The drop in average prices was significant: NBC had been able to secure average ad prices of between $78,000 (for "Lipstick Jungle") and $146,679 (for "Law & Order: SVU") for programs that aired in its 10 p.m. slot Monday through Friday in the 2008-2009 programming season.

Now that NBC has moved Mr. Leno back to 11:30 p.m., its ad prices at 10 p.m. have increased notably. On Mondays, "Chase" is commanding an average of $87,191 for a 30-second spot, while Monday's "Leno" had secured an average of $53,640. On Tuesdays, "Parenthood" is commanding an average of $100,437 for a 30-second ad; Tuesday's "Leno" had secured an average of $65,678.

On Wednesdays, "Law & Order: Los Angeles" is commanding an average of $81,226 for a 30-second commercial; last season, "Leno" on Wednesdays secured an average of $62,012. On Thursdays, "The Apprentice" is capturing an average of $99,074 for a 30-second spot; last season, the Thursday edition of "Leno" secured an average of $57,295. And on Fridays, the now-canceled "Outlaw" had been commanding an average of $58,672 for a 30-second ad; last season, the Friday airing of "Leno" was capturing an average of $48,803.

Yet NBC has not, for the most part, made up the ad-pricing ground it lost from the 2008-2009 season. The price of an ad in most dramas it aired at 10 p.m. that season is greater than that for any drama NBC is running in the current one -- except for Wednesday nights, when NBC airs "Law & Order: Los Angeles," the latest in its "Law & Order" dramas.

On Mondays in 2008, NBC secured an average of $98,909 for a 30-second spot in "My Own Worst Enemy," compared with an average of $87,191 for "Chase" in 2010. On Tuesdays in 2008, NBC secured an average of $146,679 for "Law & Order: SVU," compared with an average of $100,437 for "Parenthood" in 2010.

NBC has regained its momentum on Wednesdays. In 2008, NBC secured an average of $78,000 for a 30-second ad in "Lipstick Jungle"; this season, it has been commanding an average of $81,226 for a 30-second ad in "Law & Order: Los Angeles."

On Thursdays and Fridays, the network is seeing similar shortfalls. On Thursdays, NBC in 2008 secured an average of $110,049 for a 30-second spot in "E.R." and an average of $147,800 for a 30-second spot in "Celebrity Apprentice." This season, it has commanded an average of $99,074 for a 30-second ad in the non-celebrity version of "The Apprentice." On Fridays, NBC in 2008 secured an average of $86,948 for a 30-second spot in "Life," compared with an average of $58,672 for a 30-second spot in the now-defunct "Outlaw."

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