According to Advertising Age's annual prime-time network pricing survey, NBC's favored Friends blew past network sibling ER and CBS's Survivor to top the charts this season as the highest-priced TV ad show. A 30-second spot on Friends averages $455,700.
A 30-second spot on Friends averages $455,700. Factors vaulting the 9-year-old Friends to the No. 1 spot for the first time include: an audience yearning for familiarity in a post-9/11 world, revitalized plot lines, higher ratings and expectations that this likely will be its final year.
"There's the anticipation that this is probably going to be the last year and so advertisers want to be part of it," said Stacey Shepatin, vice president and director of network buying for Interpublic Group of Cos.' Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Boston. The cost of Friends soared 29% vs. a year ago; the show's ratings last season rose a surprising 21% in the key 18- to 49-year-old age group with an average Nielsen 11.9 rating/31 share.
While Friends jumped, another pillar of NBC's lucrative Thursday lineup reached a near-plateau. ER remains the second highest-priced show with an average of $438,514, up only 3% from last year. The show has suffered from defections of star cast members and saw a slight ratings drop last season in the 18 to 49 demo.
Viacom's CBS lost its place as owner of the most expensive show as Survivor, which topped last year's survey with a $445,000 average, dropped to third at $418,750.
The Advertising Age survey is based on estimates provided by media buyers and network executives.
As the economy continues to sputter, network TV remains a bright spot in advertising. The six broadcast networks hauled in a robust $8.1 billion in the upfront market in which advertisers make commitments for the coming fall season. Pricing remains strong and demand high for the fourth-quarter scatter market.
General Electric Co.'s NBC led all networks this season with an average commercial price of $176,462. NBC had six of the 10 highest-priced shows. CBS was next in average cost at $124,247 and had three of the top 10 shows by price. News Corp.'s Fox followed closely at an average of $123,617. Walt Disney Co.'s ailing ABC, with one in the top 10, came in fourth at $118,850.
The average cost for a 30-second prime-time commercial on broadcast networks this season is $115,799, according to the Advertising Age survey.
Largely because of CBS's challenge to NBC on Thursday, the night remains by far the most lucrative in TV, with an average price of $166,707. Seven of the top 10 priced shows are on Thursday.
The top three are joined by NBC's Will & Grace ($376,617), NBC's Scrubs ($294,667), CBS's CSI ($280,043) and NBC's Good Morning, Miami ($279,813).
Good Morning, Miami is the top-priced new show, due to its valuable Thursday time slot between Will & Grace and ER. Similarly, second-season Scrubs is positioned for high pricing between Friends and Will & Grace.
CBS's overall average was also bumped up by its Monday lineup headlined by Everybody Loves Raymond, which averages $301,640, the fifth highest-priced show. That's slightly higher than ABC's Monday Night Football, which averages $298,000 in sixth place.
Last year, MNF outpriced Raymond by 8% at $330,200, according to the survey. MNF may find prices dropping again next fall if CBS's spin-off CSI: Miami on Monday is as much of a hit as its Thursday companion. The show premiered Sept. 23 to 23.1 million viewers and outdrew MNF in household ratings. It also drew slightly more 18- to 49-year-olds in its hour, though MNF won significantly among men in that demographic.
Advertisers may sense a new winner on Fox with David E. Kelley's new Girls Club, a drama about women attorneys. The show is priced at an average of $178,400 -- more than an established Monday Kelley show, Boston Public ($146,887), about life in an urban high school.