No ad immunity: Prices triple for 'Survivor' sequel

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Sponsors of CBS' hit "Survivor" will have to pay triple the rate to be part of the action next time around.

The network has asked the nine sponsors to pony up a hefty $12 million each for "Survivor II," a dramatic rise from the $4 million they paid for the first 13-episode series.

So far, none of the sponsors--Anheuser-Busch's Bud Light, Ericsson, General Motors Corp.'s Pontiac Aztek, Frito-Lay, Reebok International, Schering-Plough Corp.'s Dr. Scholl, Target Stores, the U.S. Army and Visa USA--has re-signed. Joe Abruzzese, president of advertising sales for the CBS Television Network, would only say that negotiations were just beginning.

Charter "Survivor" advertisers will have first crack at the next series, which takes place in the Australian outback. The "Survivor II" premiere will follow CBS' Jan. 28, 2001, Super Bowl broadcast.


Ad agency executives predict the follow-up series won't be a walk on the beach. Unlike its predecessor, "Survivor II" will fight for ratings during the regular programming season rather than the relatively non-competitive summer period. The competition will include new episodes of returning series as well as special programming tied to the February sweeps period.

"The same kind of success isn't necessarily guaranteed," said Larry Blasius, senior VP-director of national broadcast for TN Media, New York.


Many agency executives estimated the new show will post ratings slightly lower than the just-completed series. For the first 12 weeks, the summer series averaged a 14.4 rating and 26 share, with last Wednesday's finale posting a 28.6 rating and 45 share, according to Nielsen Media Research.

CBS' plan to sell virtually all "Survivor" inventory to nine sponsors limited its advertising take. As a result, despite soaring ratings, CBS had little if any commercial time available to sell at higher rates to scatter advertisers.

The network sold inventory in "Survivor" (except the final episode) at what turned out to be a steep discount, about $200,000 a 30-second spot. Prices for the finale were $600,000 for a 30-second spot--also a bargain. Under the proposed pricing structure, spots for "Survivor II" would be about $500,000 to $600,000 each--on par with hit prime-time network shows including "ER."

Still, CBS has made other gains.


"Forget about the fact they limited themselves on advertising. CBS reaped an awful lot of benefits," said Mr. Blasius. "Think of what [`Survivor'] did for the local news. Think of what it did for 'Letterman' on the nights it ran. Think of what it did for their shows as a promotional platform."

Significantly, CBS lowered the median age of its prime-time viewer from 53 to around 48.

"For 'Survivor,' it's always a good thing when you can bring back viewers to network television; and particularly for CBS, where younger viewers are not expected to go," said Stacey Lynn Koerner, VP of broadcast research for TN Media.

Originally, CBS made a modest guarantee, averaging a 6 rating, according to two media executives. This meant "Survivor" provided advertisers with a rare occurrence in network TV--an over-delivery of ratings for a show.

Though ad agency executives said an increase for "Survivor II" is justified, one said advertisers need to be prudent enough to step aside if the price is too high.


"They [CBS] are trying to get all the value out of it," said Bob Igiel, president, broadcast division for the Media Edge, who bought the show for the U.S. Army and Ericsson. "[But] you have to walk away when it no longer becomes viable. Timing is important. You have to look at what needs clients have when the new series airs."

An executive close to GM said Pontiac is considering sponsorship of "Survivor II," but has yet to see a proposal. Pontiac used the event to launch the Aztek, a new sports-utility vehicle.

Since Aztek will have been in the market for six months by the time the new series debuts, GM could used the sponsorship, as the lead car advertiser, to launch the Chevrolet Avalanche, a new truck-SUV arriving in early 2001.

Contributing: Jean Halliday

Copyright August 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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