The previous record was held by "Survivor," which asked as many as nine sponsors to pony up $10 million to $12 million for 13 one-hour episodes on Viacom's CBS. Those deals included commercials and product placement.
Coca-Cola Co. and Ford Motor Co., the two major sponsors during the summer run of the modern day star-search program, already have re-upped for January, according to executives. Because of incumbent status, the executives said neither Coke nor Ford came close to spending $26 million for a new package. The advertisers' packages in the initial show included groundbreaking use of product placement on the set. "Idol" singers waited in the "Coca-Cola Red Room," and pre-produced tape pieces were called "Coca-Cola Moments." Ford's Focus cars were used to shuttle around contestants.
A Coke spokeswoman said that the company is "in negotiations" but wouldn't comment. Richard Stoddard, Ford brand ad manager, said Ford is still in negotiations as well.
Pepsi is said to have made a play for "Idol" in the event Coke decided not to renew. Pepsi did not return calls.
Fox is now looking to add a wireless telecommunications company as the third top sponsor for an eye-popping $26 million. Whether the News Corp. network will get that price is uncertain. One media agency executive called it "a starting point." The sum buys 55 spots across the 15-week series, licensing, product placement, Internet exposure, and other elements, along with the designation "Official Sponsor of `American Idol."'
Fox "feels they've put enough value in the package from an added-value standpoint to have that [dollar amount] be worth it," said a second executive with knowledge of the asking price. "But I'm sure that number will come down."
The network sees cell phone advertisers as a good fit, since "Idol" has scored well with adults 18-34, and Fox has been looking to place more young-skewing products into the show. Possibilities for wireless companies include giving each contestant a mobile phone to call family or friends while waiting to perform, or placing a wireless company's logo prominently on-screen for viewers to vote for contestants.
Also being offered are smaller packages, with asking prices in the $5 million to $10 million range for hair care, credit card and quick-service restaurant categories.
According to one executive, Procter & Gamble Co. has cut a deal in the hair care category. P&G's deal includes an extensive TV commercial buy as well as product placement in which contestants receive makeovers with P&G products. It was unclear what P&G paid, but an executive familiar with the show's pricing said Fox was seeking $500,000 per spot in the hair-care category, including product placement. A P&G executive would not comment.
The licensing agent for "American Idol" is looking for other opportunities. Fox and licensing agent Fremantle Media have held talks with Target Stores, among other retailers, about a major deal where an "American Idol" line of products would be sold at the mass retailer, according to two executives close to the companies. A likely deal would have Target running ads in the show, and perhaps contestants wearing the retail chain's clothes.
Calls to Target and Fremantle were not returned by press time.