Morning Shows Locked in Ad-Dollar Battle After Recent Ratings Shift at the Top

ABC Makes Hard-Nosed Pitch for 'GMA,' But NBC's 'Today' Has Loyal Sponsors

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Ratings at ABC's "Good Morning America" have crept up over the past six months. But luring more ad dollars as a result isn't as simple as it seems.

It's not that ABC hasn't been trying: Ad buyers say it's been making an aggressive pitch for sponsorship money long berthed at "Today," the king of morning TV for more than a decade and a half. Yet ABC faces distinct disadvantages, despite its increased viewership: NBC has more hours of "Today," which it uses to sell a broad array of multiyear deals that often weave advertising into the content. The strategy has locked up dollars, making them more difficult for ABC to grab.

ABC's 'Good Morning America' is besting NBC's 'Today' in the ratings for the first time in almost two decades.
ABC's 'Good Morning America' is besting NBC's 'Today' in the ratings for the first time in almost two decades.

"It's not as easy as just saying "This network has the best price or this network has the highest ratings .' We have criteria that are important to specific clients," said Sam Armando, senior VP-director of strategic intelligence at Publicis Groupe 's SMGx. "GMA" topped "Today" in this year's November sweeps in both the critical 25-to-54-year-old news audience (2.02 million to about 2 million) for the first time in more than 18 years and in total viewers (5.31 million to 4.84 million) for the first time in 17 years, according to Nielsen. "Today" runs four hours each weekday; "GMA" runs two hours per weekday.

"There are definitely some gains to make if you can sell the idea that the higher ratings deserve a higher CPM, or that you're paying too much for NBC vs. ABC's performance now," said one media-buying executive.

Advertisers backed the first two hours of "Today" with approximately $484.6 million in 2011, according to Kantar, while the weekday edition of "GMA" got $298.2 million. "We optimize and figure out where our money can be best invested," said one ad buyer. "There might be some tweaking."

ABC hasn't been passive. As "GMA" gained momentum, it wooed marketers during the 2012 upfront, pitching more favorable pricing for increased dollar commitments. ABC said it saw a double-digit percentage increase in volume secured for "GMA," despite a relatively flat upfront market for news programming. "GMA" won 30 new advertisers in the last upfront, ABC said, though it declined to name any.

"Right now it is our time," said Catherine Sullivan, senior VP of ABC News Sales.

NBC, meanwhile, is preaching a stay-the-course strategy, according to ad buyers familiar with negotiations. "The "Today' show is a singular brand in morning television, and demand for the show remains just as strong today as it ever was," NBC said in a statement.

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