Super Bowl Buys: It All ‘Ads’ Up

Kantar Media study suggests NFL showcase is a marketer's dream

The going rate for 30 seconds of airtime in Super Bowl XLVII was a little shy of $4 million, and if recent trends are any indication, this year’s broadcast also could be more cluttered than ever. Yet despite the cost of entry and the dense concentration of creative, the NFL’s annual showcase is more popular than ever, largely because it boasts the best retention rates of anything on television.

According to a new report from Kantar Media, Super Bowl viewers tend to remain riveted to the tube during commercial breaks. In last year’s broadcast, the retention rate was 99.3 percent, meaning that only seven of every 1,000 viewers tuned out during ad pods.

By comparison, the standard tune-out rate for live TV viewing is roughly five times higher—between 3 and 4 percent.

It’s worth noting that the retention rate holds up over the length of the broadcast. While there are natural fluctuations in audience size during even the most competitive games—it’s not unusual to have a swing exceeding 10 percent, from trough to peak—retention is proportionately consistent throughout the broadcast.

Naturally, the Super Bowl has a lot going for it. Not only has Super Sunday entrenched itself as America’s greatest secular holiday (sorry, Thanksgiving), but the combination of record deliveries and the immediacy of a live sports environment translate to a huge audience of engaged, engrossed fans.

NBC’s broadcast of the 2012 Giants-Patriots thriller marked the seventh straight year of increases in Super Bowl deliveries. Per Nielsen, Super Bowl XLVI averaged a record 111.3 million total viewers, edging the year-ago broadcast (111.0 million).

Last year’s game also scared up the biggest household rating (47.0) since 1986, when the Bears humiliated the Pats 46-10 while drawing a 48.3 HH rating. Back then a 30-second spot ran for just $550,000.

Clutter doesn’t seem to have had any impact on fan interest in the creative. Per Kantar, the volume of commercial and promotional time has swelled 17 percent over the past decade, from 40 minutes and 35 seconds in Super Bowl XXXVII to 47 minutes and 25 seconds during last year’s contest. That said, NBC did pare down its spot/promo load slightly versus the previous year, when Fox aired 48 minutes and 10 seconds of commercial time.

Where clutter gets particularly knotty is when the automotive category is involved. Last year, a record 12 car brands were showcased in the Super Bowl, accounting for an ad spend of $94.5 million for the category—36 percent of NBC’s estimated total haul of $262.5 million in sponsor revenue. As the networks cannot slot two competitive automakers in the same pod, scheduling car ads has become like a really expensive game of Tetris.

While the Super Bowl is clearly TV’s last great reach vehicle, the World Series does generate more ad revenue when Fox is lucky enough to stumble across a six- or seven-game showdown. For example, because the 2012 October Classic only went four games, averaging just 12.6 million viewers and a 7.6 HH rating, Fox’s total sales added up to $153 million. By contrast, the previous year’s Cards-Rangers tilt went the full seven games, delivering an average 16.6 million viewers and a 10.0 HH rating and generating $268.8 million in ad spending. That topped the 2011 Steelers-Packers brawl by some $40 million.

As for this year’s game, the field has been narrowed to the Pats and Baltimore Ravens in the AFC and the San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons in the NFC. While two of the potential contenders have appeared in just one Super Bowl—Atlanta lost to Denver in 1999, while the Ravens topped the Giants in 2001—the starting lineups ultimately seem to have little impact on the final ratings.

CBS Corp. CEO Les Moonves last week confirmed that the network had sold the last of its Super Bowl inventory, at an average unit cost of $3.8 million per :30. A handful of spots were purchased at rates exceeding $4 million, Moonves said.

Besides the in-game spots (when carved into 30 seconds, last year’s game boasted some 74 units), CBS also sells contingency time slots as a hedge against overtime. In 46 years of Super Bowl action, the game has never once extended beyond the end of the fourth quarter.

Moonves has said that CBS is willing to be creative if a last-minute entry tries to bust its way into the game. Speaking to investors a month ago, the CBS chief noted that it was prudent to hold a few spots open to take advantage of client desperation.

“When you get some crazed movie company come in on January 15 saying, ‘I have to have it,’ well, God what would that number be? It’s fun to think about,” Moonves joked. And while it’s not out of the realm of possibility to imagine CBS president of network sales JoAnn Ross and evp of sports sales and marketing John Bogusz commanding $5 million from a foot-dragging studio, the NFL does limit the number of in-game ads.

Super Bowl XLVII kicks off in New Orleans on Feb. 3 at 6:30 p.m. EST.

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