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!



  • Perdix

    This explains the status of Mob Doctor.

  • Joe

    how the hell mike and moly are higher than HIMYM wtf?

  • Joe

    and supernatural is lower than HoD and EOmd LOL i wonder what is the price of TWD 0$ per 30 second ? huh

  • Carmen

    After a quick study of the chart showing the costs, From the advertisers prospective:

    The best bargain :

    Fairly low cost per 30 second ad and huge total viewers.
    Say what you want about demo, those total viewers just don’t fall over a cliff and disappear when it comes to advertiser sales revenues.

    2) The worst bargain:

    New Girl.
    Seems to be way overpriced based upon relative ratings with other shows (on the same network or not)

  • silvit


    No, they look at how many younger viewers they can reach. Viewers over 49 doesn’t matter EVER.

    Bones is a show that has a very young appeal for being a drama. Look at FOX press releases. That’s all it matters.

    The other shows, not so much. DWTS, especially this year, does badly with the 18-34, like Castle. Castle does bad in 18-34, as highlighted by its demo/total viewers ratio.

    New Girl has the same demo for 18-34 and 18-49. Hence, the high price tag.

    The comparison you posted are meaningless because:

    – Fox doesn’t program 10, so comparing the whole night is comparing apples to oranges

    – Fox on Monday has the Mob Doctor, which is getting abysmal ratings. If Fox with The Mob Doctor, which is getting 1-0.9 in the demo compared to 2.2 of DWTS, is almost on par with ABC in the 18-34, this only tells you that the big chunk of that 18-34 you posted it’s given by Bones, which, considering that the number you posted it’s the average btw the two shows, does much better than the final 1.3 for the night.

  • senor chang

    Holy crap at what a rip off the Mob Doctor is. $160,000 for a 1 rating…while Revolution gets a 3 and costs just over half of that?!?!?!

  • eridapo

    @ Silvit,

    No, they look at how many younger viewers they can reach. Viewers over 49 doesn’t matter EVER.

    That is what I said. Networks look at Viewers in the 18-49 demo and the median age for that group.

    As to the 18-34 demo average, it is a fair comparison. The 10PM slot gives no benefit to ABC nor CBS since the average is calculated for all three hours of programming where as Fox’s average is for its two hours. The denominator is three for ABC/ CBS and two for Fox. There is no advantage.

    Without actually having the 18-34 demo breakdown, we know the Total Size of the 18-49 viewer population. Each rating point in 18-49 translates to 1.265M viewers (18-34 translates to 676K viewers).

    Bones’ 2.0×1.265 yields a total of 2.53M viewers in the 18-49 bracket.
    Castle’s 2.2×1.265 yields a total of 2.783M
    H50’s 1.9 yields 2.4035M.

    What these figures tell us is that 18-34 bracket can never exceed those numbers because it falls within the much larger demographic group.

    Applying the 18-34 viewers size to the average yields for each network, we get:

    ABC’s 1.4, .9464M viewers on average
    Fox’s 1.2, .8112 viewers on average
    CBS’s 2.1, 1.4196 viewers on average

    Again without having the exact 18-34 demo breakdowns, we can not really compute the actual 18-34 viewer total for Bones, Castle, or H50.

    Let us, however, assume you are right and that Bones yields the entire 18-34 for Fox, this means that Bones would yield an 18-34 demo of 2.4 while TMD contributes nothing. That means Bones’s 18-34 viewers (2.4*.676K)equals to 1.6224M viewers within the 18-34 bracket. You and I know this scenario is impossible. TMD even with its dismal 18-49 ratings has to contribute something to the 18-34 bracket.

    The CBS comedies skews the average for CBS, but I would be confident in saying that H50’s 18-34 demo is above 1.7. I would also say that Castle’s 18-34 demo is much better than DWTS, so if ABC’s average is 1.4 I would say Castle’s is around 1.6 while DTWS is below 1.4.

    Using this numbers as an example, the differences are miniscule to justify the huge differences in ad revenue.

  • DougF

    So if New Girl before the season was getting $320k. I wonder how much Walking Dead is getting. I know New Girl is on broadcast and Walking Dead cable. But Walking Dead almost doubles what New Girl is getting in 18-49.

    When was the last time a one hour scripted show got two 5.0+ ratings in a season?

  • Riff Rafferty

    there are also premiums for younger subsets of adults 18-49 (like adults 18-34)

    Correct. From my experience, the big spenders will always spend the most to reach the demographic most likely to be texting during the ads and paying them no attention whatsoever.

    Or, as I like to call it, BA-WHOOOOSH.

  • Riff Rafferty

    New Girl.
    Seems to be way overpriced based upon relative ratings with other shows (on the same network or not)

    When shows sink like bricks and dump half their audience over the course of a season, it usually takes a year for the rates to catch up with them because media buyers are too braindead to do any research. So they just see an average number presented by the network sales team of whatever it is demo/gender/income bracket they’re buying. (Zooey’s unwatchable show premiered with a 4.8 rating in 18-49 don’t forget and was being touted as the second coming of television.) Also, there are a great gaggle of f#cking idiots out there willing to pay through the nose to reach young males and are so brainwashed, they think FOX is the only place they can get them. Who on earth would want to pay a premium to advertise on a network that drove away 25% of their audience year to year and has 3 new series that have a combined viewership of hashmarks, I have no idea, but there you go.

    Keep in mind this is only a sample from a small smattering of agencies.

  • Ike

    @Bill Gorman, regarding the question of the Renew/Cancel Index and how it would look if it used 18-34 ratings, you said, “Don’t know, because we don’t see final 18-34 ratings, but probably about the same.”

    I disagree — the Ad Age numbers clearly suggest that shows with strong A18-34 numbers are much more valuable to advertisers than shows like NCIS where the strong A18-49s are obviously largely coming from people in their 40s. Why else would NCIS only command $166k, while Bob’s Burgers gets $153k? Shows like New Girl, and perhaps other Fox comedies like Ben & Kate, Mindy Project, and Bob’s (assuming they all skew equally young as New Girl) probably have a better chance at survival as a result. The R/C Index should thus be adjusted towards 18-34s… if you can figure out a way to acquire those numbers, that is.

  • Honey Badger

    why did my post disappear?
    I thought it was a good questions
    I even gave facts from an article as a basis for my question

  • Honey Badger

    why no answer?
    I now wonder how many posts disappear without anyone knowing

    why did my post disappear?
    I thought it was a good questions
    I even gave facts from an article as a basis for my question

  • Honey Badger

    I rewrote and will try again, hopefully this will be posted

    How does the television industry handle ads incorporated in the television shows?
    Do they get bigger ad dollars?
    How does that affect online viewing and profitability?
    How does this affect how tvbythenumbers predict renewals and cancellations?
    Is this going to be bigger in the future?

    An example is the show “Chuck”, they had subway ads as part of the show, and that and a fan campaign saved Chuck, and NBC renewed then for another year.

    The following article below explains and gives examples.

    How TV is foiling ad skippers
    Think you have the commercials beat? Television programs are finding new ways to sell you stuff.
    By Kim Peterson 10/25/2012
    “Like to fast-forward your way through television commercials? Companies are finding more ways to get around that — including new product placements within shows that border on obnoxious.
    Take this week’s “New Girl,” which should should have been called “New Awesome Ford Fusion.” The episode featured Zooey Deschanel’s character Jess stumbling around for two minutes trying to model at an auto show. All the while, an announcer raved about the features in Ford’s new Fusion. “

    The article above is much longer and gives examples. You can go to link to see full article ad examples.

  • Honey Badger

    looks like my post worked this time.
    probably just a hiccup in the system before, or something I did wrong, or someething with my interent provider, etc..
    whatever happened it works now.

    I am looking for peoples opinions on product placements. televsion shows, online viewing, and the future of TV

  • j

    More horoscope-ish: estimates for show yet to be aired!

    Carrie Diaries around the same as the CW’s average flops: 90210, Hart of Dixie, etc.
    The Following huge: $194. #3 drama, above all the elderly CBS shows, below only ABC’s 2 smashes.

    Of course, there are various unlisted midseason shows, mostly because they haven’t been scheduled.

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