Friends Finale: It's Sitcom's Super Bowl


It's almost like there are two Super Bowls this year. The real one on Feb. 1, which will air on CBS, is commanding $2.3 million per 30-second spot. NBC's version comes on Thursday, May 6 when the network airs the definitely final finale of the series Friends, selling at an astounding rate of $2 million per 30-second spot.

And, at that price, it's sold out.

The price is only 15% less than this year's Super Bowl rate. It's a record rate for an entertainment show.

Not quite so pricey are 30s being sold in a one-hour Friends
clip show that will precede the finale. The price commanded there is $1.25 million per unit.

Just those two shows alone will yield the network more than $70 million. The final numbers aren't firm yet, because the exact length of the finale is being determined. It'll be about an hour but could run a little less or a little more.

The price for the finale is more than five times the average price NBC got for the show in fourth quarter 2003, which network and agency sources confirmed was about $380,000 per 30 seconds. It's about $500,000 more than this year's Academy Awards show.

Given this season's stress between networks and their ad clients over double-digit rate hikes, it's all the more amazing that NBC was able to jack up the Friends
rate five-fold for the finale. Then again, the show has been a favorite of advertisers, given all the water-cooler buzz as well as high ratings for years.

"This is a huge event, and they are far and few between," says Andy Donchin, senior vice president, director of national broadcast, Carat. "Twenty years ago, they were easy to find. The numbers that Friends
will do on that day will be enormous, and that's why it will command that price."

Researchers outside NBC predict the Friends
finale will be the second-highest-rated show of the season behind the Super Bowl. One source at a competing network believes the show will draw at least a 30 rating with a 40-something share of the available audience.

While that's huge by today's standards, it would be 38% lower than the 1998 finale for Seinfeld,
which did a 41.3 rating/58 share, according to Nielsen Media Research. One reason for the drop is increased fragmentation around the TV dial. Another reason is heightened competition from CBS, which has Survivor All-Stars
and CSI
although it remains to be seen how CBS will program against the finale.

In 1993, the Cheers
finale averaged a 45.5/64. Surprisingly, the highest-rated network telecast of all time is not a Super Bowl. It's the 1983 M*A*S*H
finale, which Nielsen reports averaged a 60.2/77. No. 2 was the "Who Shot JR?" Dallas
episode (1980), which scored a 53.3/76. The highest-rated Super Bowl is the 1982 game, whose 49.1/73 puts it at No. 4.