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!



  • JohnnyRico

    This is quite troublesome for CBS long term. Just looking at how many of their shows are around a decade old and don’t do good in the 18-34 demo you gotta wonder if their Procedurals will start to dive in 18-49 demo as the 40 something viewers hit 50+. In 2-3 years 2BG and BBT will be propping the network up the way The Voice is propping up NBC.


    okay 2 questions not one…hehe

  • Mae

    Supernatural’s numbers don’t make sense to me..not when comparing it to other shows on the CW whose ratings are much worse than SPN’s.

    Not real new news though. I remember SPN being especially low compared to the other shows on the CW last year when this list came out too.

  • Jamie


    I don’t think you understand my comments.

    I’ll try explain differently. 9O21O, Dixie, GG all have lower ratings than SPN last year… Yet SPN makes less money.
    So I assume it’s because the others have higher W18-34… Which proves once and for all that advertisers pay for that demo on The CW.

  • Cory


    New Girl performs very well in 18-34 demo and for TBBT and MF, the first one is more older skewing, it gets more viewers than MF but similiar demo.

    I also presume that lot of CBS viewers are in their 40s.

  • cas127

    In other “non-breaking-news”:

    LAT is a craptastic MSM-news-hole…

    Why do think people are dumping the MSM as fast as they can…

    Incompetence wedded to ideological corruption – what a winning combination.

  • Kyle7

    I should probably know this since I’ve been visiting this site for years now, but do ad spots that are bought far in advance change in price with the ratings? For example, Revolution appears to be overperforming its expectations, seeing as how it gets a much better demo figure than Castle and H50 but was apparently selling for notably less Do the companies that bought before the season have to pay more, or do they just get a good deal? Similarly, if a show underperforms, like H50, do the advertisers get any sort of compensation, or are they just out of luck?

    I seem to remember hearing that a decent amount of ad time isn’t sold until much closer to the air date, so I assume that the nets can price those sales more in line with the ratings they’re getting at that point in time. But I just can’t recall a discussion of pre-sold spots.

  • LT

    Speaking of horoscopes, i am a Libra. Anyone have anything interesting for me? Lol

  • were123

    “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.”
    And that explains why Fringe is reported to earn more money than CSI:NY, even while CSI:NY fares better in the 18-49! I was pleasently surprised that it was up from last’s year report (from $57,000 to $68,164) :D

  • eridapo

    Did the advertisers get it wrong. The Mob Doctor beats Revolution. You know that will change if it hasn’t already.

    Seriously, Bones is estimated to make just as much as NCIS and more than Criminal Minds. Wow. I don’t think the 18-34 demo for Bones is significantly better than those shows. If anything, Bones skews similar to H50 or Castle but not by much.


    Is it possible that Fox uses its advantage with Idol to extract more money for their other shows when the Ratings do not justify it. I know a show has to stand on its Ratings, but I see Fox using Idol as a “pay to play” hammer on Ad agencies.

  • silvit


    No Bones skew younger. Comparing to Castle in particular, much younger. Fox PR spin last year highlighted how many teens or young people used to watch Bones (I used to recall some mentions of the 2-17 demo). Bones is a very light show,quirky, centered around of a group of people. The characters and storylines are never gritty or have a dark side.

    The perfect procedural for the 18-34 demo. In comparison, Bones’s 18-34 is much better than any CBS drama. Much like House was.

  • silvit

    For comparison, the latest Monday they were all 3 on (remember that shows at 8 tend to skew older, see the difference btw the BBT before and after the move) Anyway:

    FOX Bones 2.0 5 7.20
    ABC Castle 2.2 6 10.61
    CBS Hawaii Five-0 1.9 5 8.39

    It’s easy to see how Bones skew younger.

  • Mari

    All I can say after analyzing this is that FOX is better at shopping their shows around.

  • Morgan Wick

    “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.”

    Might that help explain why Fox isn’t cancelling it and in fact seems to be digging itself deeper? Perhaps they pinned too many of their hopes on Mob Doctor and don’t want to bail on it, perhaps they feel they need to air more episodes to make up the money they thought they were getting with fewer, perhaps they don’t want to have to give away make goods like candy and so don’t want to admit it’s a failure, perhaps they feel additional episodes of Mob Doctor aren’t really hurting them much because advertisers already paid plenty to support it, even if they have to give away make goods later?

    What would the Renew/Cancel index look like if it used 18-34 ratings? Or at least, if 18-34 ratings were used to refine “toss up” predictions?

  • Bill Gorman

    “What would the Renew/Cancel index look like if it used 18-34 ratings? Or at least, if 18-34 ratings were used to refine “toss up” predictions?”

    Don’t know, because we don’t see final 18-34 ratings, but probably about the same.

  • Leondre

    Are there any websites that post the 18-34 numbers

  • Hugh

    Voice is much cheaper than Idol, despite ratings that were quite close last season.

    You’d think they would have charged more for Revolution given its lead in.

    Mentalist is good value. Cheaper than Good Wife despite higher ratings.

    NCIS is a steal. Same cost as Bones, almost the same a as NCIS LA and cheaper than PoI.

    Biggest rip off is New Girl. Can’t even pull a 3.0 this year.

    ABC has gotta be happy with the 2 most expensive dramas.

    They called Last Resort “The Last Resort”.

  • eridapo

    @ Silvit,

    What the advertisers look for is the median age of the 18-49 viewer demo not the median age of total viewers. It is the median age of the roughly 2.4 million within the demo that counts. For all three shows this number is fairly close (not more than 5 years separating the three).

    Looking at the prelim data posted for 10/9/2012, TVBTN lists the following average for the 18-34 demo network average:

    ABC 1.4 (DTWS definitely does not appeal to the younger demo)
    FOX 1.2
    CBS 2.1 (I’m sure this is due to the CBS comedies earlier in the night)

    For 10/2/12,

    ABC 1.3
    Fox 1.3
    CBS 1.9

    For 9/25/12,

    ABC 1.7
    FOX 1.5
    CBS 2.0

  • Doug

    It is interesting to see just how much Idol’s premium has fallen – about 30%. That’s a pretty big swipe to the bottom line over at Fox.

  • tay

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