ABC has pocketed close to $4 million in new revenue thanks to the huge success of a slew of live commercials ad-libbed personally by late night host Jimmy Kimmel—and the spots are just about sold out through the end of 2008.
Long the place for actors and politicians to plug their latest movies, products and election bids, late night is now serving as the hottest venue for marketers to add their wares to the program mix. Their aim, as ever, is to avoid falling victim to the DVR fast-forward button.
Jimmy Kimmel Live is doing so well with live commercials in late night, media buyers will be lucky if they can squeeze clients into shows before next year, according to Doug Hochstadt, VP of primetime and late night sales for ABC. October and November are already completely sold out, while December has just a couple of slots left.
Executives close to the network confirmed that the cost of a single live commercial is upward of $50,000 and is in addition to a media buy with the network. Given that the show has aired some 75 live commercials, that would equate to about $4 million in fees since May, when JKL began airing them.
A portion of those fees goes to Kimmel's own production company, Jackhole Productions. Marketers must also make the traditional media buy and commit to spots that air during commercial breaks.
The live commercials came as Jimmy Kimmel Live—like all late-night broadcast shows—has been tasked with finding new revenue streams in a challenged marketplace, especially in that daypart. This solution came from the host, according to ABC's Hochstadt.
"It was Jimmy's idea to do it in the first place, harking back to Ed McMahon," he says. (Johnny Carson's Tonight Show sidekick did regular live ads for Alpo dog food.) "This originated from him and we are taking advantage of it as best we can. It's been very successful."
Kimmel has so far turned his comic talents loose on Nikon, Samsung, General Motors' Pontiac, Arby's restaurants, Kimberly Clark's Cottonelle, Esurance, phone giant T-Mobile, Klondike ice-cream and Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants among many others.
In a recent live commercial for Carbonite, a software storage company, Kimmel accidentally spilled coffee on his computer, but all is saved because he's backed up all his jokes with Carbonite. The spots air during what is called the "show open," and many are accompanied by ads which appear in the first commercial break to reinforce their messages.
IAG Research, a recently-acquired unit of the Nielsen Company that specializes in monitoring viewer engagement, has been tracking the effectiveness of live commercials for marketers.
"They are a good story for both the networks and for advertisers," says Rachel Mueller-Lust, executive VP of the network division. Mueller-Lust explained that IAG tracks ads shown alongside live commercials and those that aired standalone without any reference to program content. Live commercials coupled with a media buy give a huge lift to brand recall. "It is a very successful approach," Mueller-Lust said.
She noted that NBC's late-night talkers, Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien, have also done numerous live commercials. Leno has worked for brands including Maytag, Klondike, Dockers, Gillette, Garmin and Dockers. O'Brien's spots have included work for AT&T. A CBS spokeswoman said David Letterman has not performed a live commercial on his current show.