In Final Days Before the Super Bowl, CBS Is Still Finishing Up Its In-Game Ad Sales

Network could keep talking with advertisers until Sunday

Super Bowl 50 is only days away, but it's not too late for an advertiser to squeak into the game. CBS is still speaking with marketers about 30-second spots and might not finish those talks until hours before kickoff.

"We're almost to the finish line," said Jo Ann Ross, CBS president of network sales. "We might have a two-point conversion coming soon."

The last-minute strategy is part of Les Moonves' plan to wring the most money out of the network's Super Bowl ads, which sold for as much as $5 million per 30-second spot. In December, Moonves—who was named CBS Corp. chairman Wednesday, replacing Sumner Redstone—told investors that the network was holding back a few of its 30-second Super Bowl spots so it could sell them in the days before the game to advertisers who were desperate to get into the telecast.

While "we could close it out tomorrow if we wanted," Moonves said at the time, the network was looking to fetch "north of $5 million a spot" shortly before Super Bowl Sunday. He added that a movie studio was the most likely candidate to enter the game at the eleventh hour. 

Ross said that while she would have done whatever Moonves directed—"we're never going to contradict Leslie"—given the robust scatter market in the third and fourth quarter, she was confident his plan would pay off. "We were in a marketplace that allowed us to really maximize all the units that we've sold thus far, and we knew that we were going to have a great AFC championship game, which we did. Suffice it to say, there's been a lot of inquiry and activity here this past week," said Ross.

Last year, NBC didn't sell out its Super Bowl ad inventory until Jan. 28, which was four days before the game. The average price for those 30-second spots was $4.5 million. A year earlier, Fox had sold all of its in-game spots by Dec. 4.

For Ross and her CBS ad sales team, maximizing the dollar amount of these final Super Bowl spots is the culmination of an effort that began just hours after last year's Super Bowl. "The day after the Super Bowl last year, I was in Los Angeles making calls," said Tony Taranto, svp of NFL sales. "It takes an entire year, right up to the end."

The game's 50th year has provided an additional incentive to buyers, said Ross. "It's Super Bowl 50, and when you're talking to advertisers and marketers, that in and of itself brings a lot to the table. So we're blessed with that, and we were the beneficiaries of a great Sunday [NFL] schedule, a great Thursday night schedule and a lot of momentum with live sports coming out the summer and going into fourth quarter.

While Moonves thought a movie studio would pay up at the eleventh hour to get into the game, Ross said advertisers in "several" categories have expressed interest in the final spots.

For the first time this year, the Super Bowl livestream ads were bundled with the linear buy, meaning that audiences streaming the game via CBSSports.com and the CBS Sports apps on Roku, Apple TV, Android and XBox One will see the same ads as those watching on CBS. "There's 100 percent participation, so it will be a nearly concurrent experience, both on-air and online," said Taranto, adding that the new arrangement was "readily accepted by the ad community."

In this year's Super Bowl lineup, "the auto category is still the largest, and you have your mix of newcomers that are in there," said John Bogusz, evp, sports sales and marketing. (For the latest news on Super Bowl 50 ads, check out Adweek's Super Bowl Ad Tracker.)

As it looks to wrap its Super Bowl sales, Ross' team is also lining up integrations for CBS's two late-night shows, which will both air after the game. Stephen Colbert told Adweek in this week's cover story that he was working on an integration for Sunday's post-Super Bowl edition of Late Show With Stephen Colbert. "We've got a couple of things we hope to do for the Super Bowl as well, but we're still finding the right company who wants to play ball," he said.

"We are working on things," for both Late Show and The Late Late Show With James Corden, which will air after local news, said Ross.