In Depth

TV Ad Prices: 'Idol' No Match for Football -- 'New Girl,' 'Big Bang Theory,' '2 Broke Girls' Crack TV's Top 10 Most Expensive Buys

By Brian Steinberg
Advertising Age

Football has tackled Fox's falling "Idol."

For at least five years, "American Idol" has been TV's costliest show for advertisers, according to Advertising Age's annual survey. But the price of a 30-second spot in Fox's singing showcase has fallen faster than Nicki Minaj changes wigs, allowing NBC's "Sunday Night Football" to do an end run on rates.

Last year, "Sunday Night Football" and "American Idol" were virtually neck and neck for top cost, but the average cost of a 30-second spot in "Sunday Night Football" in the 2012-2013 TV season is a budget-busting $545,142, up from $512,367 last season, according to Ad Age's figures. Meanwhile, the average cost of a 30-second spot in the Wednesday edition of "Idol" plummeted from $502,900 last season to $340,825. Even less expensive is the results show: The average cost of a 30-second ad in Thursday's "Idol" is $296,002, down from $468,100 last season, according to the survey.

Ad prices for "Idol" typically rise significantly as the program moves into its final few weeks, and a person familiar with the program's pricing said some spots in the show have moved for as high as $550,000 during the season and more than $1 million for the season finale. But taken as a whole, the show now ranks a clear second to football, and the gap has become more glaring as "Idol" ratings fall and the show churns through celebrity judges. Football, meanwhile, continues to enjoy the economic benefits of being something consumers want to watch as it happens -- something to which few primetime offerings can lay claim.

The other big surprise: Fox's "New Girl" has zoomed to fourth place, coming within $10,000 of surpassing TV's third-highest priced show, "Modern Family." While the Dunphy clan saw the average cost of 30-second ad surge to $330,908 from last season's average of $249,388, the Zooey Deschannel sitcom clocked in at an average cost of $320,940 for a 30-second spot -- more than double its average cost of $125,488 in its freshman season.

In fact, seven out of the top 10 shows in the survey are comedies, suggesting that the consumers advertisers covet the most -- audiences between the age of 18 and 49 -- are looking for laughs.

And they are finding them in Bart and Stewie. Veteran Fox sitcoms "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy" take the sixth and seventh spots (the Thursday edition of "Idol" ranks fifth). The average cost of a 30-second ad in "The Simpsons" jumps to $286,131, up from $254,260 last season. The average cost of a 30-second spot in "Family Guy" rises to $276,690, up from last season's $264,912, according to Ad Age's calculations.

Two CBS sitcoms crack the top 10 for the first time. The average cost of a 30-second spot in nerd-fest "The Big Bang Theory," which has fared quite well since being moved last season to Thursday nights, is $275,573. Last season, it was $198,348. And "2 Broke Girls" is beating "Two and a Half Men." In its sophomore season, the bawdy "Girls" broke into the big 10 with an average price of $269,235 for a 30-second spot, taking over the slot once reserved for "Two and a Half Men." Last season, "Girls" fetched $166,678 for a 30-second spot.

As a result, "Big Bang Theory" and "2 Broke Girls" now hold the eighth and ninth spots, respectively. But CBS's "Two and a Half Men" is still winning -- even without Charlie Sheen. Though the comedy now starring Ashton Kutcher saw its average ad price slip a bit, it made the top 10. A 30-second spot in the guy-bonding sitcom, which has moved to Thursday from Monday, is $247,261. Last season, the average cost of a 30-second spot was $252,418.

And the costliest new program? "The Following," a much-anticipated drama starring Kevin Bacon as the pursuer of a serial killer that is set to air Mondays on Fox. The average cost of a 30-second ad in the new program is expected to be $194,425.