Simon Who? 'Idol' Spots Still Priciest in Prime Time
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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Simon Cowell may be gone, but "American Idol" isn't feeling his loss.
Fox's popular singing contest retains its status as the most expensive show on TV for advertisers, despite the acerbic judge's departure after last season and a 9% dip in viewers between the ages of 18-49 during that time period. Next year's "Idol" is getting an average $467,617 per 30-second ad on Tuesday night and $400,546 per 30-second ad on Wednesday's weekly results show, according to Advertising Age's annual TV pricing survey of media buyers, making "Idol" far and away the priciest show on TV for advertisers. Ad Age compiled data from six media-buying firms and other sources to calculate its figures.
Fox dominates our list of top-dollar shows this year, in part due to the success of musical drama "Glee." Fox airs half of the top 10 most-expensive programs for the 2010-2011 season. NBC's "Sunday Night Football" continues its reign as the most-expensive program for advertisers for the first half of the TV season, commanding an average of $415,000 for a 30-second ad -- a testament to advertisers' fervent desire to align their commercials with live sports, where viewers watch in real time and can't fast-forward past the ads. For its part, "Glee" gets an average of $272,694 per 30-second ad in the fall, when it appears on Tuesdays, and $373,014 per 30-second ad in the spring, when it appears Wednesdays after the "Idol" results show.
"We had a strong upfront across the board," said Jon Nesvig, president-sales, Fox Broadcasting, in a statement provided by email.
Two of Fox's veteran Sunday-night animated programs also helped the network. "Family Guy" averages $259,289 for a 30-second ad, while "The Simpsons" has an average of $253,170 per 30-second ad, according to Ad Age's survey. Fox's Monday-night medical drama, "House," averages $226,180 per 30-second ad. Rounding out the list of top shows are ABC's "Grey's Anatomy," which brings in an average of $222,113 per 30-second spot; NBC's "The Office," which averages $213,617; ABC's "Desperate Housewives," at $210,064; and CBS's "Two and a Half Men," at $206,722.
The survey shows the prices of several of TV's most expensive programs on the rise, after a few years of declines that went hand-in-hand with a sagging economy. Last season, a 30-second spot in "Sunday Night Football," for instance, averaged $339,700. A 30-second spot in "Glee" went for an average of $127,350; and the average cost of a 30-second spot in "Family Guy" was $214,750. Not every program's price is on the rise. "Grey's Anatomy," which rode atop our survey in 2007, last year had an average cost of $240,462. "Desperate Housewives" last year secured an average cost of $228,851.
CBS's "Mike & Molly" is the most-expensive freshman show for marketers, commanding an average of $189,160 for a 30-second spot. Last season's most-expensive freshman show, ABC's "Flash Forward," commanded an average of $175,724 for a 30-second commercial. "Flash Forward" did not get renewed for this season.
The prices are directional indicators, not the price that every advertiser pays for a 30-second spot. The estimates are based on what advertisers paid for ad time during this year's upfront market, during which marketers commit to advertising months or weeks in advance, in exchange for locking down price guarantees. The market for scatter advertising, or ads purchased much closer to air date, has been robust, so prices are likely to have risen (and in the frenzied first weeks of the new TV season the networks have also moved or canceled some shows).
And it's worth noting that most TV advertising is typically purchased as part of larger negotiations, not on a one-off basis. Prices often depend on the advertiser's relationship with the network, the volume of inventory being purchased and the presence of nontraditional advertising, such as product placements. Indeed, prices can vary by as much as 25% to 40%, depending on any number of factors, one media-buying executive suggested.
"American Idol" is one of the flash points of the current TV season, with advertisers, rival networks and Fox itself left wondering whether a mix of new judges will keep the show from sagging in the ratings . This year's season finale was one of "Idol's" lowest-rated. Yet the program appears to be maintaining its pricing. Last year, a 30-second spot in "Idol" was going for between $360,000 and $490,000.
Sunday night continues to be the most-expensive night of the week for advertisers, according to the Ad Age survey -- at least in the first half of the season. Its programming grid is filled with sports and animated programs that attract young men -- an audience that advertisers consider extremely elusive. Thursday night, the evening that many advertisers consider essential for driving weekend purchases of movies and attendance at sales, ranks second.