Like Horoscopes, AdWeek's Commercial Price Survey Is Fun, But Best Used For Entertainment Purposes

Categories: 1-Featured,Broadcast TV,TV Advertising

Written By

October 14th, 2013

On Sunday, AdWeek's Anthony Crupi had a piece on the annual pre-season commercial spot estimates based on surveys from media buyers. The estimates are based on pricing information from the upfronts and summer months before the season starts and  before there are any ratings for new shows. Unfortunately, Crupi and AdWeek muddy the issue of the driver of the pricing being adults 18-49 ratings, mixing in references to some show's total viewership. Of course looking at the per show prices themselves would make it clear that adults 18-49 ratings (and subsets of them) drive the pricing, but many people won't do that, and the innumerate among the TV media seemingly refuse to do so. That being the case, you should prepare yourself for misinterpretations of the information by the TV media, and desperate, and not so desperate, fans.

A few things to remember about the numbers:

  • They're pre-season estimates. For veteran shows they're certainly tied to last season's adults 18-49 ratings, because how they did last year is a pretty good predictor of where they will start this year. For rookie shows they are based on pre-season expectations only (likely related to the ability of the network's ad salespeople) they are not tied to the actual ratings received by new shows this season.  Put another way, there is no direct relationship between preliminary rookie show ad pricing and their initial ratings.
  • While ad buyers lock in a price per adults 18-49 ratings point for a given number of promised ratings points for a particular show, if the show does better than expected (i.e. gets higher ratings than were promised at the price) they get a deal.
  • The reverse is not true. If a show delivers fewer than the promised ratings points, the ad buyer gets make good ads later to make their purchase of ratings points whole. That's why it's nonsense when desperate fans cite those pre-season prices as futile hope for their failing shows. Regardless of the pre-season prices, if the show's ratings do not deliver as promised, the ad buyer gets the ratings points they paid for.

Here are a things that jumped out at me:

  • CBS Friday dramas are cheap! H50 ($58,455), Blue Bloods ($58,460) are among the cheapest shows in primetime among the "big 4" English broadcast networks. Certainly tied to their low adults 18-49 ratings. Will those numbers convince folks their high total viewership is irrelevant to their ad revenues? Unlikely. Like the Geocentrists, they can always come up with some sort of alternate explanation that explains their goofy worldview.
  • Subsets of adults 18-49 ratings matter. Vampire Diaries adults 18-49 ratings are noticeably lower than those of the CBS Friday dramas, yet its ad rates are very similar. That's because it delivers a higher proportion of the youngest members of that demo who advertisers will pay more to reach.

The rest of numbers are fun to look at,  you can explore on your own.

Note: I borrowed from Robert's post a year ago, but since I'm a big believer in recycle, reuse, repurpose, c'est la vie!


  • Matt Webb Mitovich

    I don’t watch comemrcials anyway, I fast-forward them on my DVR 18 days later. Why are my viewings not important to Nielsen??

  • Bill Gorman

    “I don’t watch comemrcials anyway, I fast-forward them on my DVR 18 days later. Why are my viewings not important to Nielsen??”

    Always, such a kidder! ;)

  • Pants on Fire

    Are these 30 second or 1 minute prices?

  • Shepherd

    wow, somebody didn’t expect much from Sleepy Hollow.

  • Bill Gorman

    “Are these 30 second or 1 minute prices?”

    30 second.

  • Ted Craig

    This also shows advertisers pay for affluence, which is why TMP and Glee can still charge a lot for ad time despite weak ratings.

  • CreacK

    I love how We Are Men is more expensive than NBC on Wednesday thru Friday, and just more than anything on Friday. Then again, it ratings were better than NBC Thursdays.

  • TomJH

    How I Met Your Mother’s price is rediculasly cheap compared to other sitcoms. How in the hell is FOX getting those prices for New Girl and Mindy?

  • Ted Craig


    Wealthier viewers.

  • Tom Shaw

    As always with these lists, it’s interesting to see which shows even the networks admit were long shots, like We Are Men’s cheap rate, or Back In The Game’s barely over half the other Wednesday comedies rate.

    On the flip side, look at Hostages’ rate – CBS truly thought that would succeed!

  • Owen W

    Lol @ Betrayal/Lucky 7



    Scandal $200,970
    Revenge 128,700

  • Carmen

    New Girl is the same as last year in the sense as being the worst value of the week. At least on a cursory glance at its 18-49 ratings vs. the cost per 30 second commercial.

    Looking deeper, I suppose, it has to have a huge % of its audience in the 18-34 demo, and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see most of its audience is in the 18-24 demo.

    It is a huge favorite with much younger women and that is prized to the advertisers.

  • DougF


    $139k seems like a decent amount for a new show.

  • omabin

    This kind of answers the question as to why was the mindy project renewed and why did glee got a two year renewal.

  • Jazz

    I think Nashville also had higher income viewers.

    Ahhh, my Grimm is doing well for a Friday.

  • Salvadore Almedia

    So many commercials in a show these days. The typical commercial break has 9-17 plugs, sometimes broken up into two parts. But that’s like getting 17 phone solicitations in a row. Then comes the show again for a few minutes, then another torrent of commercials. I love the way stations take a break from a show, then show 8-9 commercials, then do a quick pan of the studio, then leave again for 9 or more commercials. My TV watching is way, way less than it used to be, and when I do watch, I am constantly flipping channels to get away from ads. Ugh. Greed has ruined TV for me, so much ad clutter. Pity the advertiser who is #6 or after. What a waste of $.

  • Hamza

    Other than Scandal, Person of Interest has the highest ad rate for a 10 pm drama even though I think it was probably behind NCIS LA in the demo. Good sign?

  • Carl LaFong

    The price of the spots is not “retroactively reduced” if a show under delivers. Free spots are added (in the under-performing show or another show)later in the season. The original :30 price the advertiser contracted for is what they pay.

    The price of poorly performing shows may be reduced in the short-term (scatter) market, but Adweek is talking about upfront pricing.

  • j

    LOL, #1 on Friday is Masterchef Junior?

    The T4 new shows were Shield/Hollow/Blacklist/Crazy. Weird if the advertisers were way more optimistic about Hollow than, say, the readers of this website. Crazy probably seemed like a possible new Monday anchor before it started airing.

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