By Brian Steinberg
NBC is seeking an ambitious sum for ad inventory in its new Thanksgiving night NFL broadcast, a signal that discussions for ad time in football could heat up in the weeks leading to the annual upfront haggling sessions between advertisers and TV networks.
NBC will attempt to get "pretty close to seven figures" for a 30-second spot in the game, which will feature the New England Patriots squaring off against the New York Jets, said Seth Winter, exec VP-sales and marketing for NBC Sports Group.
The price tag is bold. Last fall a 30-second ad in NBC’s "Sunday Night Football" — the most expensive program for advertisers at the start of the 2011-2012 TV season — cost an average of $512,367, according to Advertising Age’s annual survey of ad prices in prime time. At near seven figures, the cost of a 30-second spot in the Thanksgiving-evening game would come close to doubling that price.
NBC is certainly trying to make the most of this year’s Thanksgiving night game, which was previously available only on cable’s NFL Network. It was added to NBC’s schedule this year as part of recent contract talks with the NFL, so its ad inventory is not included in ad packages that NBC may have negotiated previously. "It’s a different animal," Mr. Winter said in an interview. "We are looking at it as a unique entity within the broader NFL package."
The network’s pitch? NBC believes that families will be sitting at home after dinner, seeking out original content and potentially delivering huge ratings. The game also leads into the biggest season for retail and holiday purchases, starting with Black Friday the following morning and Cyber Monday after the weekend, so it could be opportune for a broader swath of marketers that typically advertise in football.
A price approaching seven figures would be in line with the price NBC has sought in the past for its Thursday night broadcasts of the NFL season’s "kickoff" game, one media-buying executive said. That Thursday night broadcast has attracted around 27 million viewers in its last two airings, according to data from Nielsen.
NBC’s aggressive maneuver puts a spotlight on negotiations for football advertising in the coming fall season. In recent years, with automotive marketers rushing to get ads back on TV after a recession, demand for time in football matches has been intense — and some sales have even moved in advance of formal May presentations for the upfront, when networks typically sell the bulk of their upcoming ad inventory. Advertisers like the games’ ability to draw a broad audience that many dramas and sitcoms cannot match, as well as the fact that a good portion of the viewership tunes in to watch the games live, meaning they can’t skip the ads with a DVR.
All the networks that televise NFL football — Walt Disney’s’s ESPN, News Corp.’s Fox, CBS Corp.’s CBS and Comcast’s’s NBC — are at the very least holding exploratory conversations with advertisers about football packages, according to people familiar with the talks. NBC has sold some time for the fall, Mr. Winter said. CBS has been selling time for the fall season as part of its negotiations with marketers for its broadcast of Super Bowl XLVII, according to several people with knowledge of the situation, but is also selling fall ad time independent of that effort, one of these people said.
There’s no reason, however, for marketers to feel irrational exuberance. Most of the current conversations about football adverting appear to come as part of filling schedules for multi-year deals already in place, said the media-buying executive. "Anybody that has got real estate or a big equity position in a network can potentially be having discussions sooner rather than later," the media buyer said. "We’ll give them some stuff under their belt, but going into the upfront, I don’t see the NFL marketplace moving ahead of prime time."
Can NBC get the price it seeks for Thanksgiving night? Already, the two games broadcast by CBS and Fox on Turkey Day afternoon bring in around 30 million viewers each. The NFL Network’s broadcast of a Thanksgiving night game last year snared just 10 million or so viewers, attributable to that outlet’s smaller distribution.
"I think it’s going to do a big number," the buying executive said. "Whether the market will bear it out is another story."
NBC’s ability to secure top price for its Thanksgiving night game could hinge on the network’s ability to draw retailers who normally don’t advertise on football. "How important is that date and that time period to the broader marketplace?," the buyer added. "There might be a couple of categories that find it to be critical, but there are others who won’t."
NBC has impetus to get top dollar. The network’s parent has in recent months invested heavily in sports, including renewing deals with the NHL, NFL and the International Olympics Committee, and has spent money marketing NBC Sports Network, the cable outlet that replaced the former Versus.