Ad Age Annual Fall Pricing Survey


NBC Tops Chart of Most Expensive Prime-Time Programs

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NEW YORK ( -- With a little help from its Friends, NBC tops the network chart with the top three highest-priced

'Friends' retains its crown as highest-priced show for advertisers.
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> Ad Age's Fall Prime-Time Pricing Survey

programs in Advertising Age's exclusive annual fall prime-time network pricing survey.

Final season
Going into its last season, Friends hit No. 1 for the second consecutive year, with 30-second spots selling for an average of $473,500, up from $455,700 last year, according to the survey of leading media buyers.

Unexpected was the network's Will & Grace, which came in second at $414,500, pushing NBC's ER, which came in second last year, to third, and CBS's Survivor to the fourth slot. The veteran medical melodrama ER produced $404,814 per 30-second spot, down from last year's $438,514.

In all, the peacock network snared five of the top six slots in the survey, with Survivor -- at $390,367 for 30 seconds of real estate -- the lone exception. Topping the freshman class is Coupling, which NBC views as a successor to Friends. The saucy sitcom attracted $316,400 a spot.

Thursday night slots
Thursday night also dominated the survey, grabbing the top seven slots. "This demonstrates the validity of the Thursday theory," said Shari Ann Brill, vice president and director of programming services at Aegis Group's Carat. "It's one of the strongest nights for the 18 to 49 [year old] audience because it's the last TV night before the weekend."

The success of Will & Grace, which was No. 4 in pricing last year, as well as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy on NBC sibling cable channel Bravo and ABC's new It's All Relative appears to demonstrate that gay themes are not only mainstream but profitable.

"It's definitely not like it was seven or eight years ago with Ellen, when you had an outcry," said Jason Maltby, senior partner and managing director for national broadcast at WPP Group's MindShare. "Will & Grace is the main reason. It's a show with


Show Net Price Change
1 Friends NBC $473,500 3.9%
2 Will & Grace NBC $414,500 10.1%
3 ER NBC $404,814 -7.7%
4 Survivor CBS $390,367 -6.8%
5 Scrubs NBC $360,950 22.5%
6 Coupling NBC $316,400 *
7 CSI CBS $310,324 10.8%
8 The Simpsons Fox $296,440 19.4%
9 24 Fox $292,200 58.3%
10 Mon. Football ABC $272,867 -8.4%

The "Change" field represents the difference from last season.
* 'Coupling' is a new show. There is no previous season comparison number.
a nice cushy time slot, has decent numbers and raised the bar in terms of the acceptance level."

'Will & Grace'
"The unit-price decline in ER could be due to the fact that it already hit its high mark. With a significant turnover in the cast, ratings might be a little lower, while Will & Grace is stable," said Lyle Schwartz, senior vice president and director of marketing research at WPP Group's Mediaedge:cia. "Will & Grace, since it's been in the Thursday time [slot], has been a fairly highly priced unit."

The death last week of sitcom actor John Ritter could hurt ABC's comeback plan. Mr. Ritter was the star of 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, which opens the network's Tuesday lineup and earns a respectable $151,240 per spot. Last season the show raked in $97.5 million in national TV ad dollars and $25.4 million in spot buys, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

ABC has only three half-hour episodes in the can and with less than two weeks until the premiere, few good options, said media buyers. "It's a key show for them and they are going to have to recast it," said Mr. Schwartz. "But even by recasting it you don't know if it is going to be the same show and accepted in the same way. ... They may pull it off for half a year, or they may go with a half season. We don't know."

Disputed pricing
Some, though not all, networks contacted by Ad Age disputed the survey prices as too low. The survey, surprisingly, shows that many programs have dropped in price despite the fact that during the upfront this past May the networks reported double-digit price increases. But those increases are based on the cost-per-thousand viewers. As broadcast audiences shrink, CPMs rise.

"We are paying more for eyeballs [in broadcast TV] but not so much more for units," said Michael Drexler, CEO of Publicis Groupe's Optimedia International. "As ratings have declined, and they continue to do that at broadcast networks, CPMs increase significantly. Unit costs have not gone up that much, or at all, because if they did, the CPMs would be completely unthinkable."

"There aren't too many people who can afford Friends, ER and CSI with unit prices in the $300,000 to $400,000 range. You've got to create package deals with other shows to keep the CPMs in line because if you just cherry-pick those shows, you could never afford it," he added.

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