Ad sales cast 'Millionaire' as billionaire

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ABC's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" could represent more than half the network's current $2.4 billion take in this year's upfront -- which would make it the highest grossing network show ever in terms of advertising dollars.

This year the program pulled in about $250,000 for each 30-second spot on a mostly sweeps-only, 16-week schedule. This brought the network about $450 million this season.

Factoring in a 17% to 20% increase for next season, the show could top $300,000 for a :30. Even after factoring in a traditional dip in next year's summer ratings, which could pull the show's price down to $200,000 per :30, the result would be a $1.4 billion windfall for ABC generated by "Millionaire."

Unlike other hit shows, such as NBC's "Seinfeld" or "ER," "Millionaire" -- because of its multinight airings -- is a show that more prospective advertisers can buy. "It's a double whammy effect," said Doug Seay, senior VP-national broadcast at Publicis & Hal Riney, New York. "Not only it is wildly successful, but they have it [on four nights a week]. It's a great, unusual position. They have so much of it so it works. So why not buy it?"

If there is a downside, it's that "Millionaire" will never get to the $500,000 to $600,000 per :30 price that "ER" or "Seinfeld" received. That's because the show has a huge supply of commercials, approximately 120 units a week -- or more than 6,000 units a year, according to industry estimates -- which keeps the price down.

Copyright May 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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