NBCUniversal Paid $1.4 Million per Episode to Air Modern Family. Will It Pay Off?

Only 4 seasons

Linda Yaccarino proved that she can sell Modern Family to ad buyers. Now USA Network has to sell it to audiences.

After heated negotiations, the NBCUniversal ad sales president fetched double-digit CPM increases versus previous time slot occupant, NCIS. Those higher rates were leavened by the promise that the investment would pay off in spades, and precedent seemed to suggest as much. (The Big Bang Theory and Family Guy have been huge hits at Turner.)

Make no mistake: The addition of Modern Family, which premieres on Sept. 24, is going to be a huge change for USA. In lieu of a schedule that’s long been heavy on a crime dramas, the network will be stripping a zany comedy five nights a week. (In on-air promos for the show, USA’s “Characters Welcome” tagline has been amended to read “Comedy Welcome.”)

Thus far, promotion for Modern Family has underwhelmed some observers. “Maybe they’re going to let their schedule of running 18 half hours of it a week speak for itself,” said one agency buyer. “People will notice it’s on because it’s always going to be on.”

Per NBCU-speak, Modern Family next month will be a “Gold Priority”—a top-level concern across the entire portfolio, not just USA. Yes, October, even though the show starts at the end of the month. “With an acquired series, you’re not driving to one specific night; we’re in what I like to call franchise-building mode,” explained Alexandra Shapiro, evp of marketing and digital for USA. “Marketing for this is not about Sept. 24. This is a quarter-long effort.”

Shapiro voiced practical concerns as well, saying it’s too easy to get lost in the shuffle of the fall TV season to start a campaign opposite promotion for everything on broadcast. “Why would I spend the resources [early] when there’s $600 million plus in the broadcast marketplace?” she said. Instead, the resources will go into the campaign that starts next month.

There will be some similarities to past USA campaigns in support of its original drama series. For one thing, there will be a huge social TV push, along with pop-up photo booths around major DMAs and a lottery to watch a table read in Los Angeles.

All well and good, but there remain concerns, the buyer said. “There are only four seasons in the can. They’re going to run through it in a couple of months. You’ll have run through almost the entire season in a week.” That’s the biggest point of differentiation between Modern Family and Big Bang. There are 39 fewer episodes of the former.

Shapiro’s not worried. “You can look at historical performance. It takes anywhere from two to three months for these shows to settle in,” she said. “You’re introducing new people to this franchise. There’s very little duplication between people who watch USA and people who watch this on broadcast.”

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