When it comes to primetime football, many TV advertisers are paying more for less.
The cost of a 30-second ad in CBS’ “Thursday Night Football” rose nearly 15%, while the price of a spot in NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” is up nearly 2%, according to an annual Variety analysis of primetime ad costs for the 2016-2017 season, even as ratings for TV football have tumbled in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, Madison Avenue seems to have questions about another ratings giant. The average cost of an ad package in AMC’s popular zombie dramas, “The Walking Dead” and “Fear The Walking Dead,” dropped 6.4% and a whopping 46.5%, respectively. The point may be moot: AMC said Sunday it had renewed the original “Walking” series for an eighth season, days before its seventh season is unleashed.
Football remains TV’s priciest property for advertisers. A 30-second spot in NBC’s Sunday night franchise costs an average of $650,000, according to the Variety survey. A 30-second ad berth costs an average of $529,989 for CBS’ Thursday-night football games and an average of $503,463 for NBC’s Thursday evening run of the same. An NBC Sports spokesman said the network is seeking $560,000 in negotiations.
And yet, advertisers have had cause for concern in early autumn. Yes, football games continue to attract some of TV’s biggest crowds, but, due to multiple factors, those audiences have been smaller this season. Ratings declines for each of the first four weeks of the National Football League’s games have ranged from 7% to 12% in total viewers.
“We wouldn’t say it is one direct reason that is causing the down-tick in ratings this season, but a cumulative effect of a number of circumstances,” said Billie Gold, VP and director of programming research at Amplifi U.S., a media research unit that is part of Dentsu Aegis. Poor match-ups and increasing attention on the presidential race, she said, are two potential factors in this season’s viewership tackle. There is also more football available on more TV networks, thanks to the NFL’s recent decision to split Thursday-night games among NBC and CBS.
Many TV ad prices slumped year over year despite a favorable upfront market for TV. The nation’s five big English-language broadcast networks secured between $8.41 billion and $9.25 billion in advance ad commitments for primetime, according to Variety estimates, as part of the annual session when TV companies try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming season. It’s the first time in three years they’ve managed to break the $9 billion mark. The upfront finish is a clear signal that Madison Avenue is growing more confident in TV, despite a plethora of new digital-video options. Last year, the volume of advance ad commitments totaled between $8.02 billion and $8.69 billion
Changes in viewing behavior are likely at the root of the dynamic. A recent report from Magna Global, the large media-research unit of Interpublic Group, cited an acceleration in live-streamed viewing that has begun to affect even TV’s tentpole properties, including sports. NBCUniversal’s late-summer broadcast of the Olympics also suffered from ratings declines. Advertisers are likely to spend equally on TV and digital in 2016, according to Magna — the first time they will have done so.
Football’s ability to command increases (although the average price for a 30-second ad in ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” is on the decline) under such conditions is remarkable, given that the costs of advertising in many of TV’s top-priced favorites are falling. Even Fox’s “Empire” saw the average cost of a 30-second ad fall to $442,413 this season, compared with $531,794 in 2015. Of TV’s 25 most expensive programs for advertisers, just seven – or about 28% – managed to command higher ad prices year over year, according to the Variety survey.
Two of them are the aforementioned football broadcasts, NBC’s “Sunday Night Football’ and CBS’ “Thursday Night Football.” The others are scattered across the schedule. A handful of TV veterans appear to be gaining new marketplace power. The cost of a 30-second commercial on CBS’ short-lived Monday-night broadcast of “The Big Bang Theory” rose nearly 9%, according to Variety’s survey. The cost of a 30-second spot on ABC’s long-running “Grey’s Anatomy” increased a remarkable 36.6%. The price for the same ad slot on Fox’s veteran “The Simpsons” eked out an incremental .07% gain.
Meanwhile, two younger programs are showing rising popularity with sponsors. The average cost of a 30-second spot for the fifth season of NBC’s “Chicago Fire” rose nearly 9%. And the cost of the same type of ad in the fourth season of ABC’s “The Goldbergs” hiked almost 14%. “Chicago Fire” and “The Goldbergs” have never in their time on air stood as one of Madison Avenue’s costliest TV options.
Here is a list of TV’s 25 most expensive programs for advertisers, with year-to-year comparisons:
|TV’s Most Expensive Shows For Advertisers|
|PROGRAM||NETWORK||DAY||2016 COST||2015 COST||CHANGE Y/Y|
|1. Sunday Night Football||NBC||Sunday||$650,000||$637,330||+1.99%|
|2. Thursday Night Football||CBS||Thursday||$529,989||$462,622||+14.6%|
|3. Thursday Night Football||NBC||Thursday||$505,463||N/A||N/A|
|4. The Walking Dead*||AMC||Sunday||$470,410||$502,500||-6.4%|
|6. Monday Night Football||ESPN||Monday||$371,793||$388,176||-4.2%|
|7. The Big Bang Theory||CBS||Monday||$313,119||$289,621||+8.1%|
|8. The Big Bang Theory||CBS||Thursday||$253,099||$266,163||-4.9%|
|10. This Is Us||NBC||Thursday||$237,910||N/A||N/A|
|11. Grey’s Anatomy||ABC||Thursday||$219,152||$160,415||+36.6%|
|12. How to Get Away with Murder||ABC||Thursday||$215,055||$229,794||-6.4%|
|13. The Voice||NBC||Monday||$212,775||$234,371||-9.2%|
|14. Fear the Walking Dead*||AMC||Sunday||$211,323||$395,000||-46.5%|
|15. Modern Family||ABC||Wednesday||$208,938||$236,296||-11.6%|
|16. The Voice||NBC||Tuesday||$200,742||$219,461||-8.5%|
|19. Designated Survivor||ABC||Wednesday||$166,896||N/A||N/A|
|20. Lethal Weapon||Fox||Wednesday||$164,853||N/A||N/A|
|21. The Simpsons||Fox||Sunday||$155,838||$155,727||+.07%|
|22. Kevin Can Wait||CBS||Monday 8:30pm||$154,746||N/A||N/A|
|23. Chicago Fire||NBC||Tuesday||$154,479||$141,925||+8.85%|
|24. The Goldbergs||ABC||Wednesday||$154,120||$135,226||+13.97%|
|25. Kevin Can Wait||CBS||Monday 8pm||$151,017||N/A||N/A|
|*Price is for a package of ads that run across multiple airings of an episode|
|Source: A Variety survey of estimates from as many as six media-buying agencies and other sources|
The Variety survey averages figures from as many as six different media-buying agencies, along with other sources. The ad prices are meant to be taken as directional figures, not industry gospel.
The cost of a TV ad can vary according to many factors, including the relationship between an advertiser and a network, and the amount an advertiser spends overall with a particular outlet. The Variety numbers are based on deals made during TV’s “upfront” market, when advertisers buy commercial inventory in advance. Those figures may be quite different in TV’s “scatter” market, when inventory is purchased much closer to the ads’ actual air date, and typically comes at a premium when the economy is robust.
Despite the fluctuations, the ranks of TV’s most expensive programs for advertisers remain largely the same: “Sunday Night Football,” “Thursday Night Football,” “The Walking Dead,” “Empire,” “Monday Night Football” and CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” continue to dominate the list. Other regulars also continue to make the list: ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” and “How to Get Away with Murder”; both broadcasts of NBC’s “The Voice”; ABC’s “Modern Family”; and ABC’s “Scandal,” even though it will start in midseason this cycle. But there are some interesting new entries.
Two freshman programs, Fox’s “Star” and NBC’s “This Is Us,” command some of the biggest ad prices of the new season. The Fox drama, a spin-off of its popular “Empire” that will take over the original’s time slot for several weeks in mid-season, requires an average of $240,572 for a 30-second ad. “This Is Us,” which has debuted to some acclaim on NBC, gets an average of $237,910 for a 30-second spot, according to the Variety survey. Other top-priced freshman programs this season include NBC’s “Timeless,” which costs an average of $175,297; ABC’s political thriller “Designated Survivor,” which commands an average of $166,896 for a 30-second ad; Fox’s “Lethal Weapon,” in which a 30-second ad costs an average of $164,853; and CBS’s “Kevin Can Wait.” A 30-second ad in that sitcom costs an average of $154,746 for its brief 8:30 p.m. berth on Mondays following episodes of “The Big Bang Theory” when CBS airs football on Thursdays, and an average of $151,017 for its run Mondays at 8 p.m.
TV’s cheapest show for advertisers appears to be the Friday-night showing of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” on CW. The program has garnered positive critical reaction, but that isn’t enough to boost its value to Madison Avenue. A 30-second spot in the clever musical comedy costs a mere average of $16,707 – less than some of the repeats aired by CBS and NBC on Saturday nights. Last season, when “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” ran on Monday nights, a 30-second ad in the show cost an average of $24,927.
Below, a night-by-night rundown of prices for broadcast programs scheduled to air this season in fall or midseason slots:
|7PM||America’s Funniest Home Videos||$56,885|
|8PM||Once Upon a Time||$110,710|
|9PM||Secrets & Lies||$95,517|
|Time After Time*||$89,356|
|8PM||NCIS Los Angeles||$99,291|
|8:30PM||Son of Zorn||$126,053|
|9:30PM||Last Man on Earth||$101,895|
|7PM||Football Night In America||$105,655|
|8:30PM||Sunday Night Football||$650,000|
|Little Big Shots*||$129,729|
|Shades of Blue*||$111,813|
|8PM||Dancing With the Stars||$110,463|
|8PM||The Big Bang Theory (through mid-October)||$313,119|
|8PM||Kevin Can Wait (after mid-October)||$151,017|
|8:30PM||Kevin Can Wait (through mid-October)||$154,746|
|8:30PM||Man With A Plan (after mid-October)||$106,630|
|9PM||2 Broke Girls||$109,882|
|9:30PM||The Odd Couple||$104,069|
|9PM||Jane the Virgin||$25,495|
|9PM||Fresh Off the Boat||$101,045|
|9:30PM||The Real O’Neals||$71,869|
|10PM||Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.||$102,254|
|10PM||NCIS: New Orleans||$91,604|
|Kicking and Screaming*||$102,516|
|9PM||This is Us||$237,910|
|9PM||Law & Order: SVU||$102,406|
|10PM||How to Get Away With Murder||$215,055|
|8PM||Thursday Night Football||$529,989|
|8PM||Big Bang Theory (post-football)||$253,099|
|9:30PM||Life In Pieces||$130,217|
|8PM||Legends of Tomorrow||$39,020|
|8:30PM||The Good Place||$91,201|
|8:30PM||Thursday Night Football (five weeks in first half of season)||$505,463|
|8PM||Last Man Standing||$81,303|
|8PM||Saturday Night College Football||$92,251|
|8PM||Fox Saturday College Football||$85,000|