How Sunday Became TV's Most Expensive Night

Thursday Still Important, but It Doesn't Have Football

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NEW YORK ( -- Is Sunday the new Thursday? For at least three TV seasons, Sunday has been the most expensive night of the week on broadcast TV for advertisers, according to Advertising Age's annual survey of ad prices for network programming in prime time.

Sunday night isn't all about football, with ABC's 'Desperate Housewives' commanding an average of $228,851 for a 30-second ad.
Sunday night isn't all about football, with ABC's 'Desperate Housewives' commanding an average of $228,851 for a 30-second ad. Credit: ABC
So has Thursday night, once home to everything from "Hawaii Five-O" and "Magnum P.I." to "Friends" and "E.R.," lost some of its luster among the people who purchase TV advertising?

Based solely on dollars, Thursday certainly seems to have lost some of its appeal. This fall, buying an ad on each prime-time program on all of the broadcast networks on Sunday would cost a marketer approximately $2.23 million, according to the Ad Age survey. Doing the same on Thursday would cost $2.03 million.

It's not a huge difference, but Sunday has edged out Thursday for several seasons. Ad buyers believe the two nights have taken on different functions for marketers: Thursday remains important to any advertiser who has a weekend event to tout -- a movie opening or an important sale at a particular retail outlet. Sunday, due to the sheer numbers it attracts, stands as a good night to drive awareness of new goods and services. Football brings in a broad audience for many Sunday programs, while Thursday night ratings have gradually slipped over many years.

"Thursday night has lost some luster price-wise, but if you're a retailer or a movie studio, there's no other night. That's your big night and you can't move to Sunday," said Ira Berger, director-network broadcasting at independent agency Richards Group. Choosing one night over the other, he suggested, is "category dependent."

Several buyers question whether Sunday's shows would cost as much if they didn't benefit from football. NBC's "Sunday Night Football" is the costliest program for advertisers this year and both CBS and Fox benefit from airing football in the late afternoon and early evening.

"Sports is really DVR-proof, so they are able to ask for a premium for that," said Don Seaman, VP-director of communications analysis at Havas's MPG. Football "is basically a DVR-killer that is going to last the night, or at least people will watch and carry over" to the rest of the schedule.

Yet football isn't the only story taking place Sunday night. ABC's "Desperate Housewives," which commands an average of $228,851 for a 30-second ad, is no slouch; nor is its follow-up, "Brothers and Sisters," which takes in an average of $140,445. Fox's animated programs are also nothing to sneeze at, with "The Simpsons" luring an average of $201,920 and "Family Guy" taking in an average of $214,750. Even "The Cleveland Show" managed to get one of the highest prices for a new show ($158,701) this fall.

One buying executive thinks the nights aren't all that different from each other in terms of audience and pricing. "If you take out football, which has its own advertising base relative to other prime-time programming, and then take CW out of the Thursday data, the days are very close to each other," said John Spiropoulos, senior VP-director of marketplace analytics at Publicis Groupe's MediaVest.

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