While 2012-13 was a tough season for the broadcast networks by most accounts,
advertisers still shelled out big bucks for the shows that pulled in big audiences.
As usual, the most expensive 30-second
commercials during the season ran during
the Super Bowl on CBS. And while
estimates for how much Super Bowl
spots cost vary by who is talking and
when they were bought, research company
SQAD’s NetCosts service provides
what is probably the most authoritative estimate
available. NetCosts, which gets its pricing information
directly from the invoices of advertisers that
represent about 46% of all the money spent in national
television — and more than 50% of spending
on the broadcast networks — says Super Bowl spots
went for an average of $3.6 million.
The most expensive commercials in a sitcom also
were sold by CBS, which averaged $337,000 per
spot in a second-quarter episode of The Big Bang
Theory, according to NetCosts. Prices in that episode
were significantly higher than the second-quarter
average price of $275,000.
Why This MattersDespite ratings erosion advertisers still pay up for successful shows.
Fox had a difficult season overall from
a ratings perspective in 2012-13, but the
network’s long-in-the-tooth hits still commanded
premium prices from advertisers.
Fox’s Glee was the most expensive
drama, according to NetCosts, with
commercials in one episode in the second
quarter averaging $358,000 for 30 seconds.
Glee spots in the second quarter overall averaged
$314,000, according to NetCosts.
American Idol, seen as a listing ship after so
many years as a ratings and advertising juggernaut,
still posted the highest advertising prices among reality
shows. In the second quarter, when the show
crowned its champion, commercials in one episode
averaged $699,000. For the quarter, Idol spots averaged
$341,000. The big price tags helped Fox average
a $201,000 price per unit overall during the
quarter, according to SQAD.
But the lower ratings of last season are catching
up with Fox. During the upfront for the 2013-14
season, Fox’s sales were down more than 10%.
Cable’s Grid Irony
On cable, the highest-priced spot aired not in an
NFL game but during college football. Advertisers
shelled out an average of $873,000 to be in the BCS
Championship Game, televised by ESPN for the first
time in January. By contrast, ESPN’s Monday Night
Football games averaged $305,000 in the fourth quarter,
with a high of $355,000. That’s why ESPN pays
billions for the rights to football games and shells out
$125 million per year for the BCS bowl games. Overall,
the sports network averaged $54,000 per spot in
primetime, the most of any cable network.
Primetime spots across all broadcast nets averaged
$97,000, while prime spots on cable averaged $5,200.
Larry Fried, VP of national networks at SQAD,
says that while broadcast still gets high prices for
commercials on some shows, the overall trend is
for lower prices as ratings decline. At the same
time, prices for ads on much of what’s on cable
have held steady. “So even though people are putting
more money on the top cable networks, they’re
also spreading their money around to the lower-tier
networks” to offset the higher prices on a cost-perthousand-
viewer basis that original programming on
some cable networks is commanding, Fried says.
“People used to buy just a few cable networks,” he
adds. “Now when you’re looking at a cable buy by an
advertiser, you see more than 10. You see 20 or 30
cable networks sometimes. It’s kind of amazing.”