NBC Down to Just Two Spots Left in Super Bowl

NBC Sports President Ebersol: 'Tough Slog' to Sell Last 15%

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol said the network is down to just two available Super Bowl spots and has managed to sell all of them at prices above $2.4 million, a sign that economic issues haven't thwarted advertisers' desire to be in the annual football classic.

Dick Ebersol
Photo: NBC
Dick Ebersol
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Even so, media buyers said NBC had offered ad slots in other sports programming to entice marketers to take the last remaining ad berths.

As of yesterday, "we had four spots to sell," Mr. Ebersol said in a conference call today. "I'm told within the last few hours two of those four have sold." Mr. Ebersol yesterday said NBC had sold about a dozen of its ads at its asking price of $3 million.

Strong start
NBC's journey to the kickoff of Super Bowl XLIII has been choppy. The Peacock had wind in its feathers when it began to sell time for the game during last year's upfront market. And Fox's strong performance in 2008 meant NBC was able to sell about 85% of its 2009 Super Bowl inventory by October.

Fox rapidly sold out the 2008 Super Bowl when it sought $2.7 million for 30 seconds of ad time. The match between the New York Giants and New England Patriots generated record ratings -- 97.5 million people in the U.S., according to Nielsen -- and record ad revenue: $186.3 million, according to TNS Media Intelligence, up from $151.5 million in 2007.

Still, Mr. Ebersol called the sales process since Sept. 5 a "tough slog." As recently as last week, NBC said it had sold more than 90% of its 67-spot inventory -- meaning that it had less than six spots left -- but ad buyers said they believed the network had as many as eight to 12 ads on its hands. To get the ad slots sold, media buyers said, the NBC was packaging ad time in its Super Bowl pre-game show.

Mr. Ebersol said the economy hasn't been much of a drag on Super Bowl sales. The fact "that our sales department sold 85% of the inventory in early September isolated us from a lot of the pain that the rest of the broadcast industry is feeling, including us on other endeavors," he said. "This Super Bowl, because it was sold so early, is largely immune to that pressure."

Savvy viewers who want to know how much ad time NBC really sold can watch for a few things during its broadcast from Tampa this Sunday:

How much time does the network devote to promos for its own programs and those of its sister NBC Universal outlets?
The percentage of Super Bowl ad time devoted to network promotions has increased steadily over the years, moving to 22.2%, or 9 minutes, 35 seconds, in 2007 from 13.8%, or 5 minutes, 5 seconds, in 2002, according to TNS. In a typical Super Bowl, 15% to 20% of all commercial time helps plug the network's own programming.

How much of the advertising is devoted to other NBC Universal properties?
It's not unusual for big media outlets to use their Super Bowl broadcast to promote their many assets, but this year seems to have an unusual number of GE companies in the mix. General Electric will run a 30-second spot, as will the Universal Orlando resort. Universal Pictures is in the mix, and Hulu, the online-video site jointly owned by NBC Universal and News Corp., revealed this week that it would advertise in the game.

Are you seeing repeats of the same ad as you watch the game, or do the ads you saw in the Super Bowl turn up during post-game coverage?
Most Super Bowl spots are meant to run just once during the broadcast. Running it many times would dull its impact and even cause what ad executives call "wear out" among viewers. Seeing one of those ads -- with their high production values and special effects -- turn up several times during the game and afterward could signal that NBC offered additional but lower-cost inventory to get certain marketers into the lineup.

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