TV buyers bow before Fox's 'Idol'

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Some things stay the same: Fox Network's "American Idol" is again the most expensive show on TV, for example. Others certainly change: NBC does not have a top-five show for the first time in a decade.

The average unit cost of a 30-second spot in the Wednesday-night edition of "Idol" is $518,466 while the Tuesday version followed close behind at $496,866.

Advertising Age's fall and midseason TV network pricing data, culled from prices paid by eight media-buying agencies, shows some deflation in the cost of an "American Idol" spot, perhaps reflecting the possible addition of a handful of cheaper Monday-night editions likely to be priced lower. (Last season "American Idol" Wednesday and Tuesday sold for $658,333 and $620,000 respectively.)

This year also reflects the reordered TV broadcast universe. For the first time in a decade, NBC does not have a show among the top five. CBS now lays claim not only to NBC's "must-see" audience but also the Thursday-night ad dollars.

The Tiffany network is commanding a whopping $478,000 for its No. 1 rated show, "CSI," and $351,000 for this season's "Survivor: Guatemala." NBC, meanwhile, has seen significant erosion on Thursday-night pricing, with The Donald's "The Apprentice" down from last year's $409,877 to $299,600.

NBC's "ER" remains a buyer's favorite, topping the price for CBS rival "Without a Trace," but "ER" was nevertheless down to $344,166 from last year's more robust $479,250. The 8 p.m. slot once owned by "Friends," priced at $455,700 back in 2002, is now commanding a meager $149,475 for "Joey."

Dave Kornett, senior VP-national broadcast at media agency PHD, said: "Everyone's taking a bite out of Thursday."

He added that meant it's much trickier for agencies to buy that night, given that it was hard to anticipate where viewers would likely jump. Fox's "The O.C." and UPN's "Everybody Hates Chris" are expected to eat into the younger demos of their bigger broadcast rivals.

Among the new shows, buyers reported CBS's "Out of Practice" pulled the highest price, at $292,000. ABC's "Invasion" fetched $217,000, despite not getting nearly the buzz that ABC's "Commander-in-Chief," starring Geena Davis, has gotten. That show came in at $182,580. Meanwhile Fox's "Bones," after a spate of positive attention, got a respectable $101,328 for its initial 8 pm Tuesday slot, but its price jumps significantly, to $210,000, in midseason when it is slated to follow "Idol."

NBC's most touted show, "My Name is Earl," got the bullish price of $189,536. "The Apprentice: Martha," quickly sold out at $163,146.

UPN scored a major coup with "Everyone Hates Chris," easily pulling the highest price of any of its shows at $140,900, underscoring the positive early buzz.

Sunday hits

One of the more noteworthy changes between this season's pricing data and last is the huge jump in the price of buying into ABC's Sunday night. Last season no single show sold for above $200,000. Now ABC has three shows exhibiting major inflation as a result of their viewer popularity. "Desperate Housewives," which last year could be bought for $156,542 is now one of the most expensive shows at $439,499. Sibling "Grey's Anatomy" weighed in at $352,569, while last season's "The Practice: Fleet Street," which occupied that same slot sold for $160,000.

Similarly, "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," which could be had for an average $186,658 last season, is now $330,000.

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