Old standbys populate 'Friends' series finale

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The finale of NBC's "Friends" will feature some old advertising friends, according to media buyers. The one-hour special that will air May 6, with :30 spots going for as much as $2 million, was largely sold out at the 2003 upfront and will be heavily weighted with incumbents from last year's one-hour season finale.

"The advertisers who bought in last year were given the option to take another run at it," said Ray Warren, managing director at Omnicom's OMD. Mr. Warren did not disclose whether or not OMD clients were in the finale.

A spokeswoman at NBC said the network would not discuss who is advertising in the finale.

The May 15, 2003 episode of last season was originally expected to be the series' finale. But a last minute deal bought the Peacock network another season. Because the series was extended, advertisers who bought that show were given preference to buy the actual finale. Last year's price for the final show of the season was $1.7 million per :30.

The list of advertisers who bought last year include Coors Brewing Co.'s Coors Light, Anheuser-Busch Co.'s Bud Light, Eastman Kodak Co., Sears, Roebuck & Co., Wendy's International, PepsiCo's Gatorade, Gap Inc.'s Old Navy, Home Depot, General Electric Co.'s GE appliances, Volkswagen of America, Ford Motor Co. trucks and autos, Toyota Motor Corp. trucks, Mazda North America trucks, Unilever's Dove Shampoo and Conditioner, Neutrogena, Yoplait, Verizon Wireless and Hewlett Packard Co.'s computers.

incumbency key

"Last year, if you did not buy `Friends' the year before, you couldn't buy `Friends' in the upfront. You had to have an incumbency," said Roger Schaffner, president-CEO of independent media shop Palisades Media, Los Angeles, which did not buy a spot in the finale.

At the upfront, the price for "Friends" finale spots started at $1.9 million, said media buyers who acquired spots. Long-time incumbent advertisers acquired :30s for even less, as low as $1.5 million per :30. By the end of the upfront market, which dragged on into April and early summer, prices climbed for the little inventory that was left.

movies

"When the unit rates started getting heavy," said one media buyer who bought into the finale for a marketer, "it took a lot of internal discussion to decide if we are going forward or if our monies would be better served with a `Friends' marketing relationship across the season."

There aren't too many marketers that can afford those prices except film companies, media buyers said. This year, as in last year's finale, there will be a movie advertised in every break, with exclusivity given to one studio in each.

Many movie company executives said deals have been made, but don't know yet which movies will be advertised. Likely suspects include Universal Pictures' thriller "Van Helsing," which opens the day after the finale; Warner Bros. "Troy" and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban."

The finale will be preceded by a one-hour show of highlight clips from the series, which is selling for just over $1 million for a :30 spot. Media buyers said that there may be one or two units still available in the clip show.

contributing: wayne friedman

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