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Price of ‘Sex’ Rises Skyward

Oct 20, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Television advertising buyers are astounded by Turner Broadcasting Co.’s pitch for “Sex In the City,” where the network will be asking for a eyebrow-raising $50 million from one major sponsor, and an equally pricey $30 million from each of three smaller sponsors.
“They sure didn’t underprice it,” said one veteran media agency buyer.
The pitch amounts to a “second upfront” of sorts for TBS, media executives said. MTV takes a similar approach when selling its highly rated “Video Music Awards” and “Movie Awards”-which are packaged with a number of other shows on their network.
“This package is not a media buy,” said Linda Yaccarino, senior VP and general manager of Turner Entertainment Sales, who wouldn’t discuss price. “It’s much, much bigger than that. This is not going to be funded out of cable budget. It is a marketing partnership.”
The value is higher than previously reported estimates because the packages include not only media time in the “Sex” reruns (four 30-second commercial units for the major sponsor; three units for the smaller sponsors) but also commercial time in many other TBS shows, as well as radio, online, and cable affiliate exposure.
Media buyers are flabbergasted because few if any national cable advertisers spend that much on one cable network for an entire season of programming-let alone one program. The comedy series will air in hour-long blocks, one hour comprising two episodes.
However, one veteran media agency executive said, “You can’t blame them for trying,” adding, “If they fail, they’ll just sell it piecemeal.”
Ms. Yaccarino said there are advertisers who spend $50 million a year on the network, but she wouldn’t disclose who they are. Media executives said a packaged goods company, such as a Procter & Gamble or a Unilever, or an automotive manufacturer such as General Motors, would be at the top of the list of TBS network advertisers.
Considering the size of the buy and the content matter of the show, executives said car manufacturers would be logical candidates to buy the big sponsorship packages.
“While, usually, audience interest encourages advertising investment, given the salacious nature of the show, the amount of advertisers able to participate will be limited,” said John Rash, senior VP of national broadcast for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis.
Turner executives said virtually no questionable content will be televised on basic cable and subsequent syndication airings. Less controversial content will be edited in because duplicate footage was shot at the time the original episodes were produced. Turner executives place high value on “Sex” because the TBS airing will be the first time any advertiser has been involved with the highly popular show, which originated on pay-cable service HBO.
Turner has a 15-month exclusive window for the show before the broadcast syndication window starts in September 2005. Sister company Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution is the show’s syndicator. The Tribune stations, representing the major markets, have signed on for the broadcast syndication run.
TBS isn’t revealing details concerning how many times each episode of “Sex” will run on its schedule. But assuming a typical cable play schedule, media analysts said, the entire package is still at a very big premium. The time in the show alone, the equivalent of four spots in the major package over 64 weeks, would tally about $13.5 million, according to some estimates.
A new hour-long block of “Sex,” comprising two episodes each, likely will premiere once per week but then be repeated three times in that same week, according to industry estimates. One media executive figured TBS could aggressively be selling a 2.0 rating for the initial airing. This would be followed by a projected 1.0 rating for the second showing, a 1.0 for the third, and a 0.8 for the fourth. That would total about a 5.0 cumed rating, or 4.4 million viewers, guaranteed to advertisers for the week.
TBS gets an average $12 per thousand viewers in prime time.
So if the basic cable network draws 4.4 million “Sex” viewers per week at $12 per thousand viewers, they can expect to reap some $52,800 per 30-second commercial spot in the show. The cost of those four 30-second spots multiplied by the 64 weeks brings TBS to the $13.5 million figure.