'Idol' tops TV price chart

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With "Friends" out of the picture, reality shows and dramas battled for the heart of the media buyer and the honor of being this TV season's most expensive show.

Fox Network's "American Idol" ultimately proved its draw with its Wednesday and Tuesday editions taking the No. 1 and No. 2 slots, respectively, on Advertising Age's annual fall prime-time pricing survey. Wednesday night, which features the voting and elimination element of the singing contest, costs on average $658,333 per 30-second spot, while the Tuesday edition is slightly cheaper at $620,000.

The dominance of "Idol" deals a blow to Thursday night, typically the most expensive night of the week for marketers as film studios woo weekend moviegoers. But the new season of "Idol" doesn't begin until January, and the next three slots in the top five all went to Thursday-night series.

NBC's "ER" came in third, at $479,250, followed by CBS's "Survivor" and the Peacock Network's Donald Trump star vehicle, "The Apprentice."

Jon Nesvig, president-sales for Fox, said the "Idol" victory might be explained by buyers' fears of weakness for the traditionally strong Thursday night. "I think some of the perennials like `Friends' have gone, and you've got a very ad-friendly show returning. Big marketers like predictability."

Another reason for the dominance of "American Idol" is that it has sponsorship deals that guarantee airtime to those marketers, limiting the number of spots sold in the open market.

higher `survivor'

" `American Idol' makes sense. It's highly rated and attracts a lot of young adults," said Ray Warren, managing director at OMD. The Omnicom Group agency handles Cingular Wireless, likely to be a big advertiser on "American Idol" this season.

CBS, looking to take a chunk out of NBC on Thursdays, grew pricing for highly rated "Survivor: Vanuatu-Island of Fire," which came up fourth. Media buyers said they're paying a higher price for the reality series this time around, $412,833 for a 30-second spot, compared with $390,367 during the 2003/2004 season. That price increase might be justified given "Survivor's" strong opening against NBC's new sitcom "Joey," selling for $392,500.

According to preliminary Nielsen ratings figures for Thursday, Sept. 23, CBS won the night, drawing some 30 million viewers. A CBS statement claimed "Without A Trace" beat "ER" in households, although advertisers are usually more interested in the 18-to-49 demo. Still, its performance makes "Without a Trace" a bargain at $211,002, less than half the price of a 30-second spot on "ER."

Some buyers were surprised "The Apprentice" did not come in higher. A 30-second spot on average costs $409,877, according to Ad Age's survey of buyers, although NBC pegged the price closer to $500,000.

Another surprise is for NBC's "The Contender," which, despite being preceded by a similar show on Fox Network called "The Next Great Champ," has commanded a relatively high unit cost. The boxing series from reality producer Mark Burnett came in at $330,000 per 30-second spot, making it the fifth-most-expensive show on the network. The show launches later this season.

ABC's "Monday Night Football" continues to be the network's most expensive show, with a 30-second spot in its second hour at $323,000, followed by "The Bachelor," "According to Jim" and "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." The drama "Lost," which made its debut last week, looks like a bargain at $133,514. The network said it is already getting higher pricing than that, although an ABC spokeswoman said the figures were generally on target. At UPN, "America's Next Top Model," on Wednesday took the top slot at $92,045, while at The WB network, "Smallville" was the top show at $111,700. New drama "Jack and Bobby" also made a strong showing at $82,415.

contributing: bradley johnson

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