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TV's Most Expensive Ads: Brands Pay for Football and Tears
Complete, interactive chart below
By . Published on October 2, 2017.

If ad prices are any indication of Madison Avenue's confidence in TV shows, this season's new programs are facing some doubts.

For the first time in four years, no freshman shows rank among the 10 costliest programs for advertisers, according to Ad Age's annual pricing survey.

Here's what marketers are sure of: football and tears.

The three most expensive broadcast programs for 30 seconds of ad time continue to be NFL games. And there's no sign of that changing, despite the creep of politics and safety concerns into the league.

What's also clear is that advertisers remain comfortable paying more for less. On average, a 30-second commercial in broadcast prime time for the 2017-18 season costs $134,009, up 6% from $126,333 last season.

Prime-time viewership, meanwhile, keeps falling. The Big Four broadcasters averaged a cumulative 8.1 rating in the advertiser-coveted 18-to-49 demo last season, down 8% from the season prior and only the latest in a series of declines. But supply and demand continues to work in networks' favor, at least in terms of sticker price. If marketers want to put video ads in front of big audiences all at once, TV is still the easiest way to do it.

Top 10 Priciest Shows on Broadcast For Advertisers
1
Sunday Night Football
$699,602
2
(tie)
Thursday Night Football
$550,709
2
Thursday Night Football
$549,791
4
This is Us
$394,428
5
Empire
$305,369
6
The Big Bang Theory
$285,908
7
The Voice (Mon)
$259,180
8
Modern Family
$239,782
9
The Voice (Tues)
$229,956
10
Grey's Anatomy
$213,576
Photo credits: Thursday Night Football (CBS): CBS; The Big Bang Theory: Monty Brinton/CBS; Modern Family: ABC/Richard Cartwright; Grey's Anatomy: ABC/Richard Cartwright; Thursday Night Football (NBC): NBC Sports; Sunday Night Football: Zade Rosenthal/NBC; This is Us: Ron Batzdorff/NBC; The Voice (Monday): NBCUniversal; The Voice (Tuesday): Trae Patton/NBC; Empire: Michael Lavine/FOX.

Leader of the pack

The most expensive program in broadcast this season is NBC's "Sunday Night Football," with an average price for 30 seconds of ad time hovering just under $700,000, up 4% from $673,644 last season. And CBS and NBC broadcasts of "Thursday Night Football" are tied for No. 2, averaging about $550,000 for 30 seconds.

It's worth noting that Fox's late-national NFL games, which are not technically in prime time, averaged nearly $716,000 for a 30-second spot. On cable, ESPN's "Monday Night Football" commanded about $425,000 for commercial time.

Despite any concerns regarding an oversaturation of NFL throughout the week and some wobbling in the ratings, football still regularly draws some of the biggest live audiences, an increasingly scarce commodity on TV.

Once again, "Sunday Night Football" is the most expensive show for advertisers. Credit: NBC Sports via YouTube

That dynamic is also helping NBC's tear-jerker drama "This Is Us" command the highest price for a scripted series on broadcast. On average, advertisers paid $394,428 for a 30-second spot in the series, up 45% from last season.

"This Is Us" returned for its sophomore season last week and promptly delivered a series high in the 18-to-49 demo. The episode averaged 12.6 million viewers and a 3.8 rating in the demo, up 12% from the spring finale.

The surge in the cost of its ads moved "This Is Us" up two spots on the list to No. 4, bumping Fox's "Empire," last year's most expensive scripted show on network TV. The hip-hop drama is now No. 5, averaging $305,369. It's also one of the biggest decliners of the season, plunging 30% from $437,100 last year.

Other shows with the dubious distinction of big drops include Fox's "Gotham," whose ad prices tanked 32% to $88,796, and "Lethal Weapon," down 23% to $132,331. On NBC, ad prices fell 21% for "The Blacklist" and 33% for "Blindspot." And CBS's "Kevin Can Wait" saw a 25% drop-off to $120,531.

Both "The Blacklist" and "Blindspot" are former top 10 most-expensive shows, proving that just because advertisers are willing to pay a premium one year doesn't mean they'll keep it up. "Blindspot" was the most expensive new show of the 2015-16 season. This year the drama has been relegated to an out-of-the way slot on Friday nights, where shows often go to die.

Ad Age's survey is assembled using information from as many as eight media-buying agencies. (See our 2016 pricing chart here.) The resulting prices should be viewed as directional indicators and not the actual price that every advertiser paid for a 30-second spot. The numbers are based on agency estimates that can vary depending on the amount of inventory purchased from a network, the inclusion of any nontraditional advertising such as product placements, and the relationship that an advertiser and media-buying agency has with a network. Most TV advertising is typically purchased as part of larger negotiations, not on a one-off basis.

"This Is Us" is the most expensive scripted series on broadcast. Credit: Vivian Zink/NBC

These estimates also reflect the prices that advertisers and networks agreed on in this year's upfront marketplace. Prices have likely changed for those buying spots closer to the air date in the so-called "scatter" market that follows.

In addition to "Monday Night Football," several cable programs rival those on broadcast, such as AMC's "The Walking Dead." But it is difficult to compare many cable ad packages to those of broadcast because cable buys often include multiple airings and repeats of a show.

Veterans win

Overall, the most expensive programs on broadcast TV look a whole lot like they did last year. All 10 of this year's costliest programs appeared on our list last season (though in a slightly different order).

Perhaps that's a reflection of this season's freshman series, or else the fact that advertisers have gotten burned in the past paying hefty price tags on unproven content.

Hide Chart
How Much For a 30-Second TV Spot?
Explore Our Interactive Chart
AllABC CBS Fox NBC The CW
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday SundayMidseason
5cw Supergirl 108Monday
8 p.m.
50,511 54,667 -8%
1abc Dancing with the Stars 108Monday
8 p.m.
139,448 125,260 11%
2cbs The Big Bang Theory 108Monday
8 p.m./
Thursday
8 p.m.
285,908 289,136 -1%
2cbs Kevin Can Wait 108Monday
8 p.m./
9 p.m.
120,531 160,635 -25%
4nbc The Voice (Monday) 108Monday
8 p.m.
259,180 214,079 21%
3fox Lucifer 108Monday
8 p.m.
120,579 126,798 -5%
2cbs 9JKL 109Monday
8:30 p.m.
132,231 -100NA -100NA
5cw Valor 110Monday
9 p.m.
35,863 -100NA -100NA
3fox The Gifted 110Monday
9 p.m.
133,724 -100NA -100NA
2cbs Me, Myself & I 111Monday
9:30 p.m.
118,955 -100NA -100NA
2cbs Superior Donuts 111Monday
9:30 p.m.
110,245 -100NA -100NA
4nbc The Brave 112Monday
10 p.m.
129,452 -100NA -100NA
1abc The Good Doctor 112Monday
10 p.m.
125,678 -100NA -100NA
2cbs Scorpion 112Monday
10 p.m.
124,674 109,988 13%
1abc The Middle 208Tuesday
8 p.m.
127,810 124,787 2%
2cbs NCIS 208Tuesday
8 p.m.
139,792 152,942 -9%
4nbc The Voice (Tuesday) 208Tuesday
8 p.m.
229,956 202,600 13%
5cw The Flash 208Tuesday
8 p.m.
62,425 60,660 3%
3fox Lethal Weapon 208Tuesday
8 p.m.
132,331 172,429 -23%
1abc Fresh off the Boat 209Tuesday
8:30 p.m.
119,589 101,386 18%
2cbs Bull 210Tuesday
9 p.m.
128,768 136,102 -5%
5cw DC's Legends of Tomorrow 210Tuesday
9 p.m.
37,525 37,033 1%
1abc Black-ish 210Tuesday
9 p.m.
134,639 139,483 -3%
3fox The Mick 210Tuesday
9 p.m.
106,396 -100NA -100NA
4nbc This Is Us 210Tuesday
9 p.m.
394,428 272,000 45%
1abc The Mayor 211Tuesday
9:30 p.m.
117,791 -100NA -100NA
3fox Brooklyn Nine-Nine 211Tuesday
9:30 p.m.
94,034 100,822 -7%
1abc Kevin (Probably) Saves the World 212Tuesday
10 p.m.
83,783 -100NA -100NA
2cbs NCIS: New Orleans 212Tuesday
10 p.m.
98,451 97,033 2%
4nbc Law & Order True Crime: Menendez Murders 212Tuesday
10 p.m.
153,556 -100NA -100NA
4nbc The Blacklist 308Wednesday
8 p.m.
114,957 145,122 -21%
2cbs Survivor 308Wednesday
8 p.m.
141,880 128,723 10%
3fox Empire 308Wednesday
8 p.m.
305,369 437,100 -30%
5cw Riverdale 308Wednesday
8 p.m.
32,831 -100NA -100NA
1abc The Goldbergs 308Wednesday
8 p.m.
160,193 144,210 11%
1abc Speechless 309Wednesday
8:30 p.m.
139,556 136,859 2%
1abc Modern Family 310Wednesday
9 p.m.
239,782 224,571 7%
2cbs Seal Team 310Wednesday
9 p.m.
134,251 -100NA -100NA
4nbc Law & Order: SVU 310Wednesday
9 p.m.
112,324 145,122 -23%
3fox Star 310Wednesday
9 p.m.
150,262 -100NA -100NA
5cw Dynasty 310Wednesday
9 p.m.
38,251 -100NA -100NA
1abc American Housewife 311Wednesday
9:30 p.m.
129,083 94,615 36%
4nbc Chicago P.D. 312Wednesday
10 p.m.
139,869 119,088 17%
2cbs Criminal Minds 312Wednesday
10 p.m.
115,505 127,179 -9%
1abc Designated Survivor 312Wednesday
10 p.m.
174,572 162,616 7%
1abc Grey's Anatomy 408Thursday
8 p.m.
213,576 239,650 -11%
2cbs NFL Thursday Night Football 408Thursday
8 p.m.
549,791 522,910 5%
4nbc Superstore 408Thursday
8 p.m.
112,811 87,707 29%
4nbc Thursday Night Football 408Thursday
8 p.m.
550,709 485,695 13%
5cw Supernatural 408Thursday
8 p.m.
34,430 28,300 22%
3foxfox Gotham 408Thursday
8 p.m.
88,796 130,674 -32%
4nbc The Good Place 409Thursday
8:30 p.m.
115,667 93,992 23%
2cbs Young Sheldon 409Thursday
8:30 p.m.
180,393 -100NA -100NA
1abc Scandal 410Thursday
9 p.m.
194,482 -100NA -100NA
4nbc Will & Grace 410Thursday
9 p.m.
211,856 -100NA -100NA
2cbs Mom 410Thursday
9 p.m.
122,318 121,116 1%
5cw Arrow 410Thursday
9 p.m.
37,453 40,368 -7%
3foxfox The Orville 410Thursday
9 p.m.
90,590 -100NA -100NA
2cbs Life in Pieces 411Thursday
9:30 p.m.
117,624 140,946 -17%
4nbc Great News 411Thursday
9:30 p.m.
129,793 -100NA -100NA
1abc How to Get Away with Murder 412Thursday
10 p.m.
164,984 178,339 -8%
2cbs S.W.A.T. 412Thursday
10 p.m.
121,586 -100NA -100NA
4nbc Chicago Fire 412Thursday
10 p.m.
138,698 163,133 -15%
1abc Once Upon a Time 508Friday
8 p.m.
81,105 -100NA -100NA
2cbs MacGyver 508Friday
8 p.m.
76,143 72,310 5%
4nbc Blindspot 508Friday
8 p.m.
90,846 134,629 -33%
5cw Crazy Ex-Girlfriend 508Friday
8 p.m.
14,371 14,309 0%
3fox Hell's Kitchen 508Friday
8 p.m.
94,507 78,566 20%
1abc Marvel's Inhumans 510Friday
9 p.m.
96,770 -100NA -100NA
1abc Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 510Friday
9 p.m.
94,921 107,904 -12%
2cbs Hawaii Five-0 510Friday
9 p.m.
87,302 76,520 14%
4nbc Taken 510Friday
9 p.m.
77,839 -100NA -100NA
5cw Jane the Virgin 510Friday
9 p.m.
21,143 25,075 -16%
3fox The Exorcist 510Friday
9 p.m.
50,546 52,176 -3%
1abc 20/20 511Friday
10 p.m.
63,400 79,149 -20%
4nbc Dateline NBC 511Friday
10 p.m.
52,871 53,323 -1%
2cbs Blue Bloods 511Friday
10 p.m.
83,319 74,368 12%
4nbc Dateline Mystery 608Saturday
8 p.m.
41,742 38,841 7%
1abc Saturday Night Football 608Saturday
8 p.m.
97,004 87,084 11%
2cbs Crimetime Saturday 608Saturday
8 p.m.
26,495 24,546 8%
3foxfox Fox Sports Saturday: College Football 608Saturday
8 p.m.
82,599 -100NA -100NA
2cbs Crimetime Saturday 609Saturday
9 p.m.
29,773 -100NA -100NA
4nbc Saturday Night Live Encores 609Saturday
9 p.m.
32,919 31,767 4%
2cbs 48 Hours 610Saturday
10 p.m.
36,383 31,038 17%
1abc America's Funniest Home Videos 707Sunday
7 p.m.
57,874 62,363 -7%
2cbs 60 Minutes 707Sunday
7 p.m.
124,250 115,630 7%
4nbc Football Night in America 707Sunday
7 p.m.
83,565 -100NA -100NA
3fox Bob's Burger 708Sunday
7:30 p.m.
75,333 65,930 14%
1abc To Tell the Truth 709Sunday
8 p.m.
69,038 -100NA -100NA
4nbc Sunday Night Football 709Sunday
8 p.m.
699,602 673,664 4%
2cbs Wisdom of the Crowd 709Sunday
8 p.m.
106,566 -100NA -100NA
3fox The Simpsons 709Sunday
8 p.m.
140,699 161,633 -13%
3fox Ghosted 710Sunday
8:30 p.m.
125,179 -100NA -100NA
2cbs NCIS: Los Angeles 711Sunday
9 p.m.
116,268 108,145 8%
1abc Shark Tank 711Sunday
9 p.m.
100,559 99,553 1%
4nbc Ellen's Game of Games 711Sunday
9 p.m.
124,061 -100NA -100NA
3fox Family Guy 711Sunday
9 p.m.
139,295 132,467 5%
3fox The Last Man on Earth 712Sunday
9:30 p.m.
93,848 94,293 0%
1abc Ten Days in the Valley 713Sunday
10 p.m.
116,849 -100NA -100NA
2cbs Madam Secretary 713Sunday
10 p.m.
82,653 101,778 -19%
4nbc Shades of Blue 713Sunday
10 p.m.
117,018 -100NA -100NA
1abc The Bachelor midseason 139,629 -100NA -100NA
1abc American Idol midseason 191,999 -100NA -100NA
1abc Roseanne midseason 166,573 -100NA -100NA
1abc Splitting Up Together midseason 115,857 -100NA -100NA
1abc Alex, Inc. midseason 98,542 -100NA -100NA
1abc The Crossing midseason 125,516 -100NA -100NA
1abc For the People midseason 107,868 -100NA -100NA
1abc Bachelor Winter Games midseason 105,069 -100NA -100NA
1abc Quantico midseason 107,795 106,074 2%
4nbc Chicago Med midseason 134,463 135,535 -1%
3foxfox 911 midseason 129,110 -100NA -100NA
HOW WE GENERATE THE DATA: Ad Age's survey is compiled using data from as many as eight agencies. The resulting prices should be viewed as directional indicators and are not the actual price that every advertiser pays for a 30-second spot. The numbers are based on a range of agency estimates that can vary depending on the amount of inventory purchased from a network, the inclusion of any nontraditional advertising such as product placements, and the relationship an advertiser and media-buying agency has with a network. Most TV advertising is typically purchased as part of larger negotiations, not on a one-off basis. These estimates also reflect the prices advertisers and networks agreed on in this year's upfront marketplace. Prices have likely changed for those wishing to buy a spot closer to the air date in the so-called "scatter" market.

In fact, the most expensive new show isn't really new at all. NBC's reboot of "Will & Grace" cost upfront buyers an average of $211,856 for 30 seconds. In its previous life, the sitcom was a favorite among advertisers. In 2003, "Will & Grace" averaged $414,500 for a 30-second spot, coming in at No. 2 on Ad Age's list for the season. (More on that here).

Another expensive newbie, if you can call it that, is ABC's revival of "American Idol." The reality singing competition averaged just under $200,000 for 30 seconds of commercial time this season. In 2006, the singing competition snagged nearly $600,000 per 30-second spot. By its final season on Fox in 2016, prices for "Idol" inventory had fallen below $200,000. (More on that here).

"Idol" has been usurped by NBC's own reality singing competition, "The Voice," with the Monday night performance show coming in seventh on our list at $259,180 and the Tuesday night results show taking ninth place at $229,717, both up by double-digit percentages.

CBS newcomer "Young Sheldon," a spin-off of "The Big Bang Theory," also fares well, averaging $180,393 for a 30-second spot. Of course, this too is a familiar property, with narration by Jim Parsons, who plays Sheldon Cooper in the original. "Young Sheldon" debuted last week to 17.2 million viewers and pulled a 3.8 rating in the 18-to-49 demo, making it the biggest comedy premiere in four years. It won't air again until November, but CBS has already announced it is giving the series a full-season order.

"The Big Bang Theory," for its part, fell one spot to No. 6 on the chart, averaging $285,908, relatively flat with last year. And ABC's "Modern Family" stays steady at No. 7, averaging $239,782, a 7% increase.

ABC's venerable "Grey's Anatomy" once again rounds out the top 10, averaging $213,576 for 30 seconds of commercial time. Last year, the Shonda Rhimes medical drama returned to the top 10 for the first time since 2010. It's by far the oldest show in the top quadrant, now in its 14th season.

Still, "Grey's" is nowhere close to the $400,000-plus that it commanded from advertisers in the 2007-08 season, when it was the most expensive program on TV.

NBC claims five of the top 10 most expensive shows in broadcast prime time.

Among returning broadcast shows, 23 have seen the cost for ad time increase, while another 23 have seen decreases and 16 have remained relatively steady.

Roundup

TV's Costliest Show
NBC's "Sunday Night Football" at nearly $700,000 on average

Most Expensive Scripted Broadcast Series
NBC's "This Is Us" averaging $394,428

Biggest Decliner
NBC's "Blindspot" plunged 33% to $90,846

Most Expensive New Series
NBC's reboot of "Will & Grace" at $211,856

Cheapest Show On Broadcast
The CW's "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" at $14,371 (It's also the lowest-rated show on broadcast)

Web production by Chen Wu.