Like Horoscopes, Ad Age's Annual Commercial Price Surveys Are Fun

Categories: Broadcast TV,TV Advertising

Written By

October 22nd, 2012

But perhaps also like horoscopes, they are best used for entertainment purposes only!

On Sunday Advertising Age's Brian Steinberg released the annual commercial spot estimates based on surveys from media buyers. Most of the estimates are based on pricing information from the upfronts months before the season starts and  before there are any ratings for new shows.  Steinberg and Ad Age do a good job of disclaiming how they come up with the numbers and disclaiming that they should only be used as directional indicators. I have no problem with the approach.

I do, however, have a problem with the LA Times reporting on the survey with the headline: TV ratings don't dictate commercial prices, Ad Age survey says.  That's maddeningly frustrating for folks who have to deal with questions about ratings every day. The story itself is fine -- it correctly notes that it's not total viewers, but adults 18-49 ratings that drive the pricing. So it turns out, of course, that ratings *do* dictate commercial pricing. Of course, it could've been titled "Total viewers don't dictate commercial prices, Ad Age Survey says" and we'd have had no problem with it.  For people who read the whole story, it's fine, but for people who read just the headline (which is a lot of people) it just adds to the general confusion about ratings. Joe Flint, if that's your headline: shame on you -- if it was your editors' headline, shame on them.

A couple of other things that LAT story didn't note: the simple notion that because younger adult viewers watch less television, they're relatively scarce and there is a premium for scarcity. Also, as the Ad Age survey has made abundantly clear over the years, there are also premiums for younger subsets of adults 18-49 (like adults 18-34) which might explain why Glee came in at a higher price than NCIS even though NCIS has considerably *better* adults 18-49 ratings. Even an aging Glee still usually handily bests NCIS with adults 18-34.

The numbers are fun to look at. Rather than get into specifics (or the obvious, that Sunday Night Football rules the pack),  you can explore on your own.  Several things did catch my eye though, and I'll share one of them: to the degree the estimates are reasonable, those buying Revolution in advance got a great deal!



  • Jamie

    Is there a complete grid/list this year which says how much advertisers pay for a 30-second slot for every show inc CW.

    I remember a detailed one last season.

  • Paul

    @Jamie, the chart is on the left of the article. You can click on it to enlarge.

  • silvit

    They really banked on New Girl. And it has been proven one again that shows that skew old are less valuable than the ones which skew young. Bones is worthy as much as NCIS despite having at least 1/3 less demo (even last year).

  • Jamie


    Thanks a lot! I was viewing on mobile so I couldn’t see.

    Wow at The CW, not great numbers. Kinda proves they sell to W18-34 seeing the low ad-rate for Supernatural.

  • Robert Seidman

    maybe I should’ve gone with “the big mound of salt” picture.

  • Oliver

    It’s fun to see which shows underperformed relative to expectations.

    The biggest standout is X Factor. Advertisers clearly thought X Factor’s ratings would be on par with The Voice, and that clearly hasn’t happened.

  • swalker

    Poor Nikita..

  • silvit


    Or since it’s based on estimates, they just thought that Supernatural would have gotten the same number as last year while they thought many new shows would have done better.

  • Jamie


    And last year it was their second highest rated show and still only makes 35k…

  • CrimTV

    WOW 2 Broke Girls and New Girl’s ad prices are quite hefty! TVD’s is the second highest on the CW, beaten by Arrow, wow!

  • silvit


    That’s because the CW is very low rated. A show on the CW can’t make 80-100k. New shows were estimated higher, but that doesn’t mean that NOW they are more worthy given the crappy ratings. Shows like GG were expecting to receive a bump for their final season but they didn’t.

  • EatMorePez

    Interesting that what FOX is charging for :30 on The Mob Doctor is essentially the same as CBS is charging for :30 on NCIS. Methinks FOX will have to offer up some make goods.

  • Melanie

    Is it the W18-34 being relatively less that makes SPN cheaper than 90210 & HOD? Otherwise I don’t get it. Especially now that it isn’t on Fridays anymore.

  • Tony ^_^

    Wow! “New Girl” is in the Top 10! :D

  • Spencer


    Last year, Fringe was getting 1.4-1.5 early in the season, and making ~$57,000 per spot.

    This year, it’s getting 1.0-1.1, and making ~$68,000 per spot.

    Anyone care to speculate?

  • Samunto

    Clearly advertisers didn’t have much hope for Revolution. And they had rather high hopes for The Mob Doctor and Fox’s Tuesday sitcoms.
    Very interesting to see those prices.

  • Oliver

    I believe Fringe’s ratings exceeded expectations last season, which was a major factor in it getting a final season.

  • Spencer


    Fringe ended season 3 with a 1.2, and ended season 4 with a 1.0. I feel like there’s more at play here….

  • chrisss

    @ Spencer

    Just like ratings go down every season, ad rates go up every season.


    Okay…one question…why is New Girl so strong? Ratings are good but not wow. Also, why such a gap between BBT and MF? I could see BBT and New Girl swap but it isn’t so what is the deal?

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