Last week, Ad Age magazine unleashed its annual survey of how much a 30-second commercial costs on every show on network television. As you would assume, with live viewing decreasing every year, and the power of the networks eroding on the whole, Ad Age’s Jeanine Poggi found that many shows took hits compared to last year’s survey. Some shockingly so.
But there are exceptions! The phenomenon that is CBS’s The Big Bang Theory shot to the top of scripted shows. And advertisers seem to believe in this year’s American Idol judging panel more than they did in last year’s. Shows such as ABC’s Scandal and NBC’s The Voice also got their just rewards, particularly since they both attract real-time audiences.
I’ve ranked the shows below according to Ad Age data from most expensive to least. Along with last year’s Ad Age numbers for each show, I’ve also included the season-to-date Live+Same Day ratings for the first four weeks of the season so we can look at whether the advertisers made good bets. The networks are encouraging the press to use Nielsen’s more cumulative measurements, such as Live+3 or Live+7 numbers. For journalists who write for consumers, it’s absolutely worth looking at how many people really watch a show, whether on television, VOD, or streaming. But Nielsen doesn’t offer those. And once you really try to figure out a true audience, why just three days? Or seven days? Why not 30? Or 365? Many of us have probably saved up shows on our DVRs and then watched them all at once.
And when we did, we probably did not watch the commercials. Which is why I chose to use the Live+Same Day ratings here. Three more housekeeping things: 1) I didn’t include shows that have already been canceled — We Are Men, Ironside, and a few more — because… well, they have no ads anymore for you to wonder about! But I’ll put those numbers at the very bottom. 2) In evaluating how shows are doing, ratings-wise, their performances depend on what network they’re on and what night they’re on. A strong show on Fridays will likely pale in comparison to hits on other nights of the week; and what’s considered a success for NBC is very different from one on CBS. Finally, 3) Ad Age has a complicated methodology for how it gathered its information, and I will append that to the bottom as well.
Without further ado, here is the ranked list. Only live-readers in the 18–49 demographic are allowed, though.
Last year: $545,142
Season-to-date ratings: 22.2 million total viewers, 8.4 in 18 to 49.
Verdict: Last year, NBC’s Sunday Night Football overtook American Idol, which had been the costliest show for five years before that. Now there’s no contest. Sports — and mostly football — have become one of the only guaranteed live viewing experiences.
Last year: $340,825
Season-to-date ratings: We’ll have to wait until Jan. 15.
Verdict: American Idol’s ad rates fell sharply last year when the Mariah Carey/Nicki Minaj/Keith Urban panel was to take over. And so did its ratings, so that was the right bet for advertisers. But now the return of Jennifer Lopez appears to have stirred some excitement. Also, Idol is likely benefitting for advertisers’ desperation for live viewers. (The Thursday results show this season is getting $289,942 per spot, which is slightly down from last year’s $296,062.)
Last year: $275,573
Season-to-date ratings: 18.2 million total viewers, 5.3 in 18 to 49.
Verdict: This show has an incredible growth story, and is in its seventh season the No. 1 scripted network show in the 18–49 demographic.
Last year: $239,866
Season-to-date ratings: 14.4 million total viewers, 4.7 in 18 to 49.
Verdict: So far, our list directly reflects the season’s ratings: The Voice is the No. 3 show among 18- to 49-year-olds (football is not a show!). This is the first time that the show has been in Ad Age’s Top 10. And the Tuesday night installment is bringing in $278,987 for each spot, up from last year’s $225,337.
Last year: $330,908
Season-to-date ratings: 11.1 million total viewers, 4.1 in 18 to 49.
Verdict: Modern Family is a big gainer in Nielsen’s aggregated audience measurements, such as Live+3 and Live+7, meaning the number of people who watched after three days and seven days. Which is great for the show’s strength. But less great, perhaps, for bringing in ad dollars, since time-shifting is not in advertisers’ favor.
Last year: $320,940
Season-to-date ratings: 3.8 million total viewers, 2.0 in 18 to 49.
Verdict: Here is where we veer dramatically from this season’s ratings rankings: New Girl is down significantly in viewership in its third season.
Last year: $286,131
Season-to-date ratings: 6.4 million total viewers, 2.9 in 18 to 49.
Verdict: The ad rates for The Simpsons are down almost 20% year over year. But? Let us bow to The Simpsons in its 25th season! Twenty-fifth!
Last year: $194,425
Season-to-date ratings: Not yet! (Season 2 premieres Monday, Jan. 20.)
Verdict: This pitch black thriller was an unknown last year, but now advertisers know what they’ll be getting: 1) A hit in its first season and 2) a ton of scares and violence. Just guessing that if it weren’t for that second part we would see more of a spike here.
Last year: $139,668
Season-to-date ratings: 9.7 million total viewers, 3.4 in 18 to 49.
Verdict: A well-deserved big jump here for Season 3 of Scandal, which has manufactured a rare and valuable live-viewing community on social media.
Last year: $276,690
Season-to-date ratings: 5.2 million total viewers, 2.6 in 18 to 49.
Verdict: At this time last year, Family Guy was getting a 3.4 in 18–49. Fox’s Sunday animation block is taking a hit this season. But these numbers are still strong, relatively.
Last year: $226,707
Season-to-date ratings: 9.1 million total viewers, 3.1 in 18 to 49.
Verdict: Grey’s Anatomy is down, naturally, in its 10th season. But the Shonda Rhimes show is still one of the only strong dramas on the networks in the 18–49 demographic.
Season-to-date ratings: 11.5 million total viewers, 3.3 in 18 to 49.
Verdict: The list’s first new entry! I don’t think The Blacklist is a fake hit, but when The Voice goes on hiatus, we will see how strong it is on its own. Among new shows, it’s slightly behind Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but I suspect it will overtake the ABC show soon. Or more precisely, S.H.I.E.L.D. will continue to erode while the James Spader thriller stays steady.
Last year: $247,261
Season-to-date ratings: 9.7 million total viewers, 2.4 in 18 to 49.
Verdict: The long-running hit comedy, which switched time slots this season, has experienced a fairly precipitous — and for haters, gratifying — collapse. Last year at this time, Men was drawing 12.5 million viewers and 3.7 among 18- to 49-year-olds. (It was airing after Big Bang.) It’s an expensive show. Could this be its final season?
Last year: $245,335
Season-to-date ratings: 7.6 million total viewers, 2.4 in 18 to 49.
Verdict: Let’s face it: The X Factor is never going to be the success Simon Cowell wanted when he left Idol behind. These ratings aren’t terrible, especially with so much else across the network schedule in triage mode. But the show is down quite a bit from last year. (The rates for the Thursday results show are $169,255 per ad.)
Last year: $269,235
Season-to-date ratings: 8 million total viewers, 2.5 in 18 to 49.
Verdict: CBS bet big on new comedies this season, with mixed results (more on that throughout the list). But it’s also having some real problems with its established sitcoms, like Two and a Half Men and 2 Broke Girls. Compared with last season at this time, 2 Broke Girls is down a full ratings point in Live+Same Day ratings.
Season-to-date ratings: 12.4 million total viewers, 3.2 in 18 to 49.
Verdict: The Millers has the great slot post-Big Bang. And it does lose a good portion of those viewers. But given that there have been comedies that have been totally rejected by the Big Bang audience, I think CBS is happy with The Millers, which is the No. 1 new comedy of the season.
Last year: $203,537
Season-to-date ratings: 7.8 million total viewers, 2.4 in 18 to 49.
Verdict: Another story of ratings erosion this season, OUAT is down a full ratings point compared with the same period last year. A 2.4 in Live+Same Day ratings is nothing to sneeze at in this weakened world, but given that ABC felt like this show was strong enough to build a franchise around it (launching the Once Upon a Time in Wonderland spin-off this season), the drop in advertising interest in this show makes sense.
Last year: $224,345
Season-to-date ratings: 5.6 million total viewers, 2.2 in 18 to 49
Verdict: Glee is down, of course, because most things are. But compared with a lot of other shows, it’s fairly stable in its penultimate season.
Season-to-date ratings: 11.6 million total viewers, 2.9 in 18 to 49.
Verdict: CBS’s Robin Williams comedy isn’t a runaway hit, but it’s doing perfectly nicely. CBS has other problems with its comedies.
Last year: $187,653
Season-to-date ratings: 8.4 million total viewers, 3.3 in 18 to 49.
Verdict: For its first few seasons, HIMYM was a show on the bubble for renewal. While it’s never been a smash, it’s an example of stability that has evolved into strength. The show is in its final season, and the way things are going with the Monday comedy block on CBS, the network will really miss it.
Last year: $166,649
Season-to-date ratings: 19.3 million total viewers, 3.3 in 18 to 49.
Verdict: In total audience, NCIS is the No. 1 drama by a large margin. It’s been on for 11 seasons now, and barely decreased its year-over-year price compared to 2012–13. (As opposed to most of the other aged shows on this list.)
Last year: $166,247
Season-to-date ratings: 7.2 million total viewers, 2.1 in 18 to 49.
Verdict: Pretty much every season, Fox announces at its spring upfront that it’s going to move Bones to Fridays, which would probably signal the end of the show. And every year, it doesn’t actually move Bones, because it needs its loyal audience to stay where it is. Will it move to Fridays later this fall, as is supposed to happen? I wouldn’t bet on it!
Season-to-date ratings: 9.1 million total viewers, 3.4 in 18 to 49.
Verdict: S.H.I.E.L.D was by far the most ambitious and hyped show of the new season. It started out strong and has fallen since. Will this show find a floor? And more important for fans who want it to be better, will it find its voice?
Season-to-date ratings: 3.4 million total viewers, 1.4 in 18 to 49.
Verdict: On Friday, Fox announced that it was picking up a full season of the execrable Dads. With these ratings, will we have to see all 22 on Tuesday nights? I have hope we will not.
Season-to-date ratings: 3.6 million total viewers, 1.6 in 18 to 49.
Verdict: The Dads/Brooklyn Nine-Nine block is in such a tough time slot against S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC and NCIS on CBS. That Brooklyn Nine-Nine builds in audience after Dads is a sign of strength for this show, which is clearly why Fox picked it to air after the Super Bowl along with New Girl.
Season-to-date ratings: Not on yet! Nov. 17.
Verdict: This is the show that will allegedly push Bones to Fridays. But considering that plan was delayed, we will see what happens to Almost Human. My feeling is that it won’t catch on, and could, therefore, hurt Sleepy Hollow, which is Fox’s bright spot this season. But who knows! That’s why we play the game. And by “game” I mean “watch TV” and by “we” I mean… I have no idea who I mean.
Last year: $158,546
Season-to-date ratings: 4.4 million total viewers, 2.1 in 18 to 49.
Verdict: American Dad is actually moving to TBS for its 11th season!
Season-to-date ratings: NBC hasn’t yet announced its midseason schedule. I do wonder whether About a Boy will stay on Tuesdays considering how terribly NBC’s Thursday comedies are doing? Or maybe it will stay there because Thursdays are a slaughterhouse.
Verdict: Tuesdays against New Girl? Hmm.
Season-to-date ratings: 7.3 million total viewers, 2.2 in 18 to 49.
Verdict: Don’t get attached to this particular Mom. Just not good enough for a CBS comedy.
Season-to-date ratings: None yet!
Verdict: I kind of liked the pilot for this odd show, which is a limited series about dead people returning to a small town. (Or people who were thought to be dead? And haven’t aged?)
Season-to-date ratings: 8 million viewers, 2.9 in 18 to 49.
Verdict: This fun, witty, utterly absurd reimagining of Ichabod Crane and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow will be bringing in more ad dollars at the upfront next season. It has already been renewed!
Last year: $185,003
Season-to-date ratings: 12.3 million total viewers, 2.1 in 18 to 49.
Verdict: CBS’s decision to shift Person of Interest from its plum spot last season on Thursdays at 9 p.m. has definitely hurt the show’s ratings, and it’s unclear whether it’s paying off for them with the comedy block yet. (In the case of Two and a Half Men’s drop, I would guess it is not.) But the show is doing well enough: 10 p.m. is hard these days, unless you’re Scandal.
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