Is it Worth It? -a look into TV ratings

Yesterday was a big day for a TV-obsessed marketing student like me. Ad Age released their annual survey showing the average cost of a 30-second spot on primetime programming (Link:, and Entertainment Weekly released a list of the most popular TV shows of the fall thus far. (Link: Logic would dictate that these two lists should be incredibly similar – after all, don’t advertisers make their decisions and pay premiums based on ratings?

Yes and no. While advertisers certainly do look at ratings, they’re looking for a surplus of 18-49 viewers, especially from the18-34. They also make decisions based on psychographic segmentation – things like income, college students versus housewives, how engaged viewers are in each show. Many advertisers are working with limited budgets and choose to spend their dollars on shows with a viewer base very close to their target markets. Others are running multi-million dollar campaigns where the number of eyeballs is the most important number.

I talk a lot about why advertisers do what they do – because I’ll be honest, sometimes I’m just plain baffled but – today I’m going to talk about what surprised me in my comparison between the two lists and what that means for these programs going forward.

Runaway Hits:
According to EW’s list, “Revolution” is the highest rated new show this fall among viewers ages18-49, ranking number 11 overall. With an average spot rate of $97,133, it goes without saying that advertisers get an amazing deal here. This rate is relatively high for NBC, especially for a freshman series, but it’s clear Revolution is the gem leading NBC to four consecutive wins in the 18-49 demographic. What does this mean for the show and NBC from here on out? I fully expect Revolution to jump up the 2013 Ad Age survey, and as long as it keeps its ratings up, I expect to see a long, long run from this series. If ad spot rates reflect the ratings, this show will likely air far past its expiration date.

The second highest-rated new show among 18-49 year olds is CBS’s “Elementary”. I have no qualms about extolling its virtue – it was one of my most anticipated new series and has quickly worked its way up the ranks among my favorites overall. The show brings an average of $141,690 per spot for CBS, nothing too out of the ordinary for their programming. Advertisers aren’t too crazy about procedurals, but CBS has definitely made a home for them. Elementary is another one I expect to see for a long while – and that’s good because I love it. Have I mentioned that before?

Although it’s in its sophomore year, “New Girl” is definitely FOX’s bonafide advertising hit of the season. It averaged $125,448 last season but is now up to a whopping $320,490, making it the fourth most expensive primetime show. In terms of popularity, it falls at number 20, right behind CBS’s “How I Met Your Mother.” As for its insane jump in price, I’m puzzled. My intuition tells me the show’s segmentation and engagement is very appealing to advertisers – perhaps it brings in premium 18-34 year-old viewers. One thing I do know for sure – someone in FOX’s ad sales department definitely got a raise.

Biggest Letdowns:
Television is definitely a land of disappointments. From delayed premieres – it’s past Oct. 19, NBC. Where is Community? – to shows shot down before their prime – FOX, this one’s all you – viewers are constantly being disappointed. The side of the equation often not considered? Networks experience a huge bout of disappointment, too. I’m sure FOX is none too pleased about American Idol’s huge drop in spot rates, especially considering how well The Voice is doing for NBC. I can see why they’ve kept The Mob Doctor despite its more than atrocious ratings – it pulled down even more than Bones.

Over on CBS, I was a little surprised to see NCIS’s relatively low $166,649, especially considering it number 7 among 18-49 year-old viewers. But then again, it’s an aging show with an aging audience, and in the fall it runs against Sunday Night Football, ranked number 1 in the18-49 group. Even Partners pulled down $161,675, although I can imagine that number is likely to drop quickly. (Still not sure how I feel about Partners – jury’s still out here.)

I can analyze spot rates and network decisions until I’m blue in the face – and I will – but the only thing that’s obvious is the tumultuous relationship between the advertising and television industries. There’s no doubt each relies on the other, but the environment is so tempestuous that falling out of favor is easier than sleeping through your 8 a.m. class. So really, the only question worth answering here is – is it worth it?

Clearly, it depends.

Office Quote of the Week

Dwight: You’re not Jim! Jim’s not Asian! (“Andy’s Ancestry”, Season 9, Episode 2)


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