'Rock Center' Winning Higher Ad Rates Than Some NBC Stalwarts

Tuning In: Why NBC Likes Brian Williams More Than the Playboy Bunnies

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Brian Williams, host of the forthcoming 'Rock Center'
Brian Williams, host of the forthcoming 'Rock Center' Credit: NBC

Looks like NBC's dapper news anchor Brian Williams has more leverage with advertisers than a passel of scantily-clad cocktail waitresses.

A 30-second commercial during NBC's new "Rock Center with Brian Williams" news magazine, which debuts next Monday at 10 p.m., is commanding an average of $110,000, according to media buyers familiar with the matter. That's much higher than the paltry-for-prime-time average $74,273 that 30 seconds cost during the now-cancelled "The Playboy Club."

That figure helps illuminate why NBC shut down "Playboy Club" after just three episodes. With an average of 4.95 million viewers season to date as of Oct. 16, according to Nielsen, "Playboy Club" captured the interest of fewer people than Saturday -night repeats of "Law & Order: SVU." Yet the costs of actors such as Amber Heard and Eddie Cibrian, not to mention capturing the look and feel of 1960s-era swingdom, was substantial.

"Rock Center," featuring Mr. Williams as anchor and contributors such as Meredith Vieira and Ted Koppel, may not go gangbusters from the outset. Its Monday-night lead-in, "The Sing-Off," isn't one of TV's most-watched programs. And there's a lot of existing competition, from "Charlie Rose" to "60 Minutes" to "Nightline" and even NBC's venerable "Dateline," now in the midst of a new promotional push. "Rock Center" probably won't get the same kind of Monday-night ratings as CBS's "How I Met Your Mother " and "Two and A Half Men," or ABC's "Dancing with the Stars."

But news magazines cost significantly less than a full 22 -episode, hour-long drama. If "Rock Center" performs just a little better than "Playboy Club" did -- and CBS's "48 Hours Mystery" on Saturdays so far this year is capturing 5.1 million viewers on broadcast's weakest night -- it could generate significantly better returns.

NBC News works as a centralized division, producing content for any and all NBC Universal outlets. Mr. Williams is already employed by NBC News, as are Mr. Smith and several other "Rock Center" contributors. We're guessing it costs NBC a lot less to bring on Ms. Vieria as a contributor than it does to pay her for co-hosting "Today" full time.

And MSNBC and CNBC may have their own staff and personnel, but there's no reason the company can't take the work of certain employees and put it to work elsewhere, as NBC is doing with CNBC sports-business correspondent Darren Rovell and his new show on Versus (soon to be known as NBC Sports Network). So NBC can create a few more stories for "Rock Center" without putting the network into debt.

A recent New York Times column by David Carr profiling Mr. Williams suggested the cost of mounting a new newsmagazine could run NBC as much as $250,000 to $300,000 an episode, small potatoes compared to the $3 million or more it could cost to run a weekly drama. An NBC News spokeswoman did not respond to an email seeking comment.

In theory, there isn't much room for many "Rock Center" episodes on Monday nights. Starting early next year, NBC's Monday lineup includes "The Voice," a song-and-dance competition show upon which the network has pinned many of its hopes, not to mention "Smash," a Broadway-themed drama that is said to be a favorite of the network's entertainment chief, Robert Greenblatt.

But NBC could always plug "Rock Center" in elsewhere on the prime-time grid to support other underperforming selections. After all, at $110,000 for a 30-second ad, "Rock Center" has more leverage in the marketplace than much of NBC's fall lineup, including such stalwarts as "L&O: SVU" ($104,528); "Harry's Law" ($64,017); "Biggest Loser" ($106,153); and "Parenthood" ($95,650).

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Tuning In is an ongoing series of commentaries by Ad Age TV Editor Brian Steinberg on the TV schedule, the ads it carries and changes within the industry. Follow him on Twitter.

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