TargetCast: Price of Network :30 Slides 10% in Q1

The cost of a 30-second advertisement on network television fell 10 percent in the first quarter of this year, as lower ratings and depressed 2009-10 upfront pricing took a bite out of prime time inventory.

Per analysis by the New York-based independent agency TargetCast tcm, the average cost per unit for a prime time :30 on broadcast TV fell 10 percent to $104,051. (TargetCast crunched numbers from NetCosts; year-to-year comparisons did not include the Winter Olympics.)

According to TargetCast senior vp, executive director of national broadcast Gary Carr, Fox boasted the highest unit cost in Q1 ‘10, commanding some $200,008 per spot, thanks to high-profile series such as American Idol, 24 and House. Pricing for ABC and CBS real estate was less than half of the Fox figure, with both nets selling time for around $94,000 a pop.

Bringing up the rear was NBC, with an average spot cost of $76,211.
Despite a robust scatter marketplace––pricing in Q1 was between 25 and 30 percent higher than last year’s upfront levels––unit costs still dropped. “The drop in costs was due in part to lower ratings and lower overall dollars, but was also a result of the high percentage of units sold in the upfront market when prices were well below a year ago,” Carr said.
Excluding the Olympics, broadcast deliveries of adults 25-54 were down 9.2 percent in the quarter.
While the Big Four endured declines, ad-supported cable enjoyed an uptick in unit costs. The average unit cost of the top 15 vehicles for adults 25-54 was up 7.5 percent to $9,968, per TargetCast. ESPN led all cable outlets with an average prime time spot cost of $19,301, followed by USA Network and TNT at $15,500 each.

Cable’s gains were partly a function of improvement over “a very low pricing upfront,” Carr noted, although the networks also had more available inventory to take advantage of the strong scatter market.
Among adults 25-54, the top 15 ad-supported cable nets in Q1 were: USA, TNT, TBS, A&E, ESPN, History, FX, Discovery Channel, truTV, Syfy, Food Network, Fox News Channel, ABC Family, HGTV and TLC.

TargetCast did not furnish dollar or ratings data for the core TV demo, viewers 18-49. In the aggregate, ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox were down 2.5 percent in prime among viewers 18-49 primetime ratings for the 2009-10 broadcast season. Excluding NBC’s Winter Olympics coverage, ratings among the core demo were down 5.5 percent on the year.