By Claire Atkinson
With “Friends” out of the picture, reality shows and dramas battled for the hearts of media buyers and the honor of being this TV season’s most expensive show.
Fox’s “American Idol” ultimately proved its draw with its Wednesday and Tuesday editions taking the No. 1 and No. 2 slots, respectively, on Advertising Age’s annual fall prime-time pricing survey. Wednesday night, which features the voting and elimination element of the singing contest, costs on average $658,333 per 30-second spot, while the Tuesday edition is slightly cheaper at $620,000.
The dominance of “Idol” deals a blow to Thursday night, typically the most expensive night of the week for marketers since film studios use the night to woo weekend moviegoers. But the new season of “Idol” doesn’t begin until January, and the next three slots in the top five all went to Thursday-night series.
NBC’s “ER” came in third, at $479,250, followed by CBS’s “Survivor” ($412,833) and the Peacock Network’s Donald Trump star vehicle, “The Apprentice” ($409,877).
Jon Nesvig, president of sales for Fox, said “Idol’s” victory might be explained by buyers’ fears that the traditionally strong Thursday night has grown weak. “I think some of the perennials like `Friends’ have gone, and you’ve got a very ad-friendly show returning. Big marketers like predictability.”
Another reason for the dominance of “Idol” is that it has sponsorship deals that guarantee airtime to those marketers, limiting the number of spots sold in the open market.
“`American Idol’ makes sense. It’s highly rated and attracts a lot of young adults,” said Ray Warren, managing director at OMD. The Omnicom Group agency handles Cingular Wireless, likely to be a big advertiser on “American Idol” this season.
CBS, looking to take a chunk out of NBC on Thursdays, grew pricing for highly rated “Survivor: Vanuatu-Islands of Fire,” which came in fourth. Media buyers said they’re paying a higher price for the reality series this time around-$412,833 for a 30-second spot, compared with $390,367 during the 2003-04 season. That price increase might be justified given “Survivor’s” strong opening against NBC’s new sitcom “Joey,” which sold for $392,500.
CBS won the night for Thursday, Sept. 23, drawing 23.79 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. In a huge victory for CBS, “Without a Trace” beat “ER” in total viewers-21.51 million compared with 19.69 million. Even though “ER” beat “Without a Trace” in adults 18 to 49, “Trace” is a bargain at $211,002, less than half the price of a 30-second spot on “ER.”
Some buyers were surprised “The Apprentice” did not come in higher. A 30-second spot on average costs $409,877, according to Ad Age’s survey of buyers, though NBC pegged the price closer to $500,000.
One surprise is NBC’s “The Contender,” which, despite its premiere being delayed due to a similar show on Fox called “The Next Great Champ,” has commanded a relatively high unit cost. The boxing series, from reality producer Mark Burnett, came in at $330,000 per 30-second spot, making it the fifth-most-expensive show on the network. The show launches later this season.
ABC’s “Monday Night Football” continues to be the network’s most expensive show, with a 30-second spot in its second hour at $323,000. “MNF” is followed by “The Bachelor” ($205,522), “According to Jim” ($204,212) and “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” ($186,658). The drama “Lost,” which made its debut Sept. 22, looks like a bargain at $133,514.
The network said it is already getting higher pricing than that, though an ABC spokeswoman said the figures were generally on target. At UPN, “America’s Next Top Model” on Wednesdays took the top slot at $92,045, while at The WB, “Smallville” was the top show at $111,700. New drama “Jack & Bobby” also made a strong showing at $82,415. n
Brad Johnson contributed to this report.