Sponsors Shying Away From ‘Rock Star’s’ $20M-Plus Price

Apr 11, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Mark Burnett Productions’ upcoming summer CBS reality series “Rock Star” is stimulating only weak advertiser interest after asking marketers to pony up a whopping $20 million to $25 million per deal.

The premise of the show is a contest to find a replacement lead singer for the 1980s Australian pop group INXS. Michael Hutchence, the original lead singer of the group, died in 1997.

For “Rock Star,” which buyers said will air three times a week for 13 weeks, Mr. Burnett wants advertisers to buy into a heavy advertising load totaling 55 units for the entire series, branded entertainment agency executives said. CBS said it has not finalized programming plans for the show.

Each 30-second spot is valued at $240,000 to $250,000, bringing the total price tag to as much as $14 million. Mr. Burnett wants another $6 million to $10 million for product integration.

Mark Burnett Productions executives are also trying to tie in additional marketing dollars because the plan would include sponsorship opportunities for a music tour with the band.

The show is due to start in July, and media analysts said Mr. Burnett has been slow to sign marketers because the current TV advertising market is weak.

“I think they are really late with this; they keep calling, looking for deals,” said one branded entertainment executive at a media agency.

On the Heels of a ‘Debacle’

Initially, the “Rock Star” agreement provided that CBS and Mark Burnett each would sell a specific amount of advertising inventory in the show. Industry executives said CBS now has begun taking a more active role in overall sales of the show.

Like his deal for NBC’s “The Contender,” Mr. Burnett sells product integration opportunities and advertising inventory in “Rock Star.”

“This is an interesting story, being that it is on the heels of the Madison Road debacle and that ‘The Contender’ hasn’t done that well,” one media agency executive said.

Madison Road Entertainment, an entertainment marketing company, was sued by Mark Burnett Productions several weeks ago for unfairly profiting from deals it made for “The Apprentice.” Madison Road has countersued Mr. Burnett for defamation and trade libel.

“The Contender” has sunk to weak 2 to 3 rating points in the adults 18 to 49 demographic, according to Nielsen Media Research, and some analysts believe that as a result Mr. Burnett can’t command premium pricing for his advertising/marketing packages.

Aiming for the ‘Idol’ League

Peggy Green, president of broadcast for Zenith USA, whose client Toyota Motor Sales bought into “The Contender,” said despite the fact that the show’s broad viewer ratings are feeble, “The Contender” is hitting the young male demographic that Toyota is seeking.

For “The Contender,” major advertisers such as Home Depot, Gatorade, Sierra Mist and Toyota paid $11 million in media buys and another $3 million to $4 million for the product integration, media buying executives said.

Executives with Mark Burnett Productions didn’t return phone calls by press time.

A CBS spokesman declined to comment. Since 2000 CBS has aired Mark Burnett’s “Survivor” series, the granddaddy of reality shows.

The $20 million to $25 million “Rock Star” price tag would put the show into the “American Idol” league of sponsorship deals. Coca-Cola, Cingular Wireless and Ford Motor Co. are the major sponsors of “Idol,” and each pays $25 million for two 13-episode editions of the show, media agency executives said.