We regularly list the top rated broadcast prime-time TV shows each week for adults 18-49, the age group that most closely correlates to advertising revenue potential. But that list measures only one component of the advertising revenue picture for a show, the other is how many minutes the show’s on the air.

To get an idea of which broadcast prime-time shows likely brought in the most advertising revenue for the 2008-9 broadcast season, which ended May 20, I multiplied the season average adults 18-49 viewership by the number of minutes the show aired during the season. I realize that’s a very rough measure of the likely advertising revenue that doesn’t take into account many factors, but it’s interesting to look at the results.

By that measure, NBC Sunday Night Football and American Idol are the biggest advertising revenue generators in broadcast prime-time. But that’s not surprising, they’re also the top rated shows for adults 18-49.

Several shows that bubble up on this list, but not on the typical adults 18-49 lists because of their long running times are Biggest Loser and ABC’s Saturday Night Football.

Another surprise was Univision’s Sabado Gigante appearing on the list because of its huge airtime. Based on what we know about relative advertising rates for Spanish language programming (they’re lower) that’s not likely an apples to apples comparison, but it is still interesting.

Of course, there are lots of limitations looking at things this way including that it doesn’t indicate profitability and short shows, even with high ratings, wouldn’t make this list, and looking at numbers on a “show” basis while interesting is likely not as ultimately useful as looking at revenue on a per prime-time hour basis.

Rank Program Net Avg. Adults 18-49 (LIVE+SD) (000) Season Airtime (Minutes) Relative Advertising Revenue
2 AMERICAN IDOL-WED FOX 12,194 1,458 0.75
3 AMERICAN IDOL-TUE FOX 12,042 1,385 0.70
4 DANCING WITH THE STARS ABC 6,135 2,167 0.56
4 GREY’S ANATOMY ABC 6,277 1,965 0.52
6 BIGGEST LOSER 7 NBC 5,020 2,280 0.48
7 HOUSE FOX 6,139 1,828 0.47
9 CSI CBS 5,999 1,651 0.42
10 CSI: MIAMI CBS 4,835 1,980 0.40
11 SAT NIGHT FOOTBALL ABC 3,572 2,470 0.37
12 NCIS CBS 4,520 1,920 0.37
13 CRIMINAL MINDS CBS 4,511 1,800 0.34
14 THE MENTALIST CBS 4,630 1,689 0.33
16 HEROES NBC 4,722 1,567 0.31
17 FRINGE FOX 4,724 1,559 0.31
18 SABADO GIGANTE SAT UNI 1,189 6,123 0.31
19 CSI: NY CBS 4,243 1,680 0.30
20 LAW AND ORDER:SVU NBC 4,369 1,620 0.30

Nielsen TV Ratings: ©2009 The Nielsen Company. All Rights Reserved.

The Relative Advertising Index is the takes the season average adults 18-49 viewership multiplied by the total duration in minutes of the show divided by the top show’s (Sunday Night Football) result.

Posted by:TV By The Numbers

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