America’s Most Expensive TV Shows

October 23, 2013 by Thomas C. Frohlich

Everyone talks about how expensive it is to advertise during the Super Bowl, but regular old prime time television isn’t exactly cheap. According to a recent report, many of the top shows command hundreds of thousands of dollars for just a 30-second spot.

Adweek surveyed media buyers about the cost to advertise on the major networks during prime time for the fall 2013-2014 schedule. According to the survey, 30 seconds of ad time for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” cost $570,000, making it the most expensive show on which to buy advertising. The most expensive non-sports show, CBS’s “How I Met Your Mother,” runs at $326,230. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the TV shows making the most in advertising.

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There are some newer shows commanding big ad dollars, notably NBC’s “Blacklist” and “The Crazy Ones” on CBS. Each pulls in excess of $175,000 for a 30-second spot within the first season. However, the truly premium-cost shows are more seasoned. Each of the 10 has been on air for at least three years, and four have been running for at least a decade. “The Simpsons,” which has the fifth-most expensive ad spot, is entering its 25th season.

Prime time TV slots are in high demand among both show producers and advertisers. And within prime time, earlier is definitely better. Four of the top five programs start at 8:00 p.m. Only one of the top 10, ABC’s “Scandal,” ends after 10:00 p.m.

Networks can demand more for an ad spot that more people see. So, not surprisingly, the shows with the most expensive ad spots tend to have much better viewership. Of the 10 most expensive prime time shows, seven are in the top 20 for the number of homes reached on a weekly basis. Most of these shows reach more than 10 million viewers each week, and “Sunday Night Football” is watched by 21.3 million, according to Adweek.

Perhaps most important to ad buyers, these shows are very successful among the key purchasing group of 18 to 49 year olds. Six of the 10 prime time shows with the most expensive ad space reach the most 18 to 49 year olds. Each of these six is viewed by at least 5 million people on a weekly basis. All 10 are in the top 20 for ratings for the demographic, as well.

The distribution of the most expensive shows among the big four networks is relatively even, with each holding at least two of the 10 most expensive prime time shows. NBC does manage to have two of the top three, with “Sunday Night Football” and “The Voice.”

24/7 Wall St. reviewed Adweek’s survey of media buyers. We identified the 10 regularly scheduled programs with the highest average cost for a 30-second spot, according to the survey. All rankings are for prime time only, which runs between 8:00 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., and only for regularly scheduled programming. Ratings and other viewership figures were provided by Nielsen, and are for the 2013-2014 season, through October 13. Unless otherwise specified, all viewership figures are for people two years of age or older. “The Voice” airs twice weekly, and the viewership and ad cost figures for both days are listed.

These are the TV shows charging the most in advertising.

10. Scandal
> 30-second spot price: $200,970
> Network: ABC
> Weekly viewers: 9.8 million (29th highest)
> Seasons on air: three
> Time slot: 10:00-11:00 p.m., Thursday

Shonda Rhimes, the writer behind long-running success “Grey’s Anatomy,” created “Scandal” in 2011. According to The Huffington Post, the show brought in about 6 million viewers per week for ABC during its first two seasons. Now in its third, the show is averaging nearly 10 million weekly views, according to Nielsen. This is a good sign for the program, which was the lowest rated ABC drama debut of the 2011-2012 season. Also, succeeding in the 10:00 p.m. slot, sometimes referred to as the “dead zone,” is quite the achievement.

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9. Two and a Half Men
> 30-second spot price: $204,176
> Network: CBS
> Weekly viewers: 10.9 million (23rd highest)
> Seasons on air: 11
> Time slot: 9:30-10:00 p.m., Thursday

So far this fall, more than 10 million people have watched “Two and a Half Men” per week on average. CBS charges more than $200,000 for 30 seconds of advertising when the show is on the air. Charlie Sheen, the show’s former star, was fired in 2011 after a notorious meltdown. He was replaced by Ashton Kutcher, who was recently reported to be the current highest-paid TV actor, earning $24 million between June 2012 and June 2013. Jon Cryer, starring on the show since its debut in 2003, is the second-highest paid actor on television.

8. Grey’s Anatomy
> 30-second spot price: $206,075
> Network: ABC
> Weekly viewers: 11.2 million (21st highest)
> Seasons on air: 10
> Time slot: 9:00-10:00 p.m., Thursday

Shonda Rhimes’s medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy” went on the air in 2005 and became popular almost immediately, averaging more than 17 million viewers per week at that time. When the program was released it received praise not only for its script, but for the open-casting process that resulted in the show’s diverse set of actors. Now in its ninth season, the show still attracts a substantial viewership, averaging more than 11 million viewers per week on average. “Grey’s Anatomy” star Ellen Pompeo has earned about $200,000 per episode since 2007, a fee easily covered by 30 seconds of advertising.

7. Family Guy
> 30-second spot price: $223,145
> Network: FOX
> Weekly viewers: 5.9 million (56th highest)
> Seasons on air: 13
> Time slot: 9:00-9:30 p.m., Sunday

Seth MacFarlane is the creator of “Family Guy,” “American Dad” and “The Cleveland Show,” all of which appear on the FOX network. More than other networks, FOX relies heavily on animated programs like “Family Guy” and “The Simpsons.” In a recent interview for the New York Times, FOX’s chairman for entertainment, Kevin Reilly said, “We have a 25-year multibillion-dollar prime time monopoly in animation that has worked great.” Compared with other expensive TV shows, however, “Family Guy” attracts among the smallest number of prime time viewers — just under 6 million per week on average.

6. New Girl
> 30-second spot price: $231,570
> Network: FOX
> Weekly viewers: 5.5 million (tied for 60th highest)
> Seasons on air: three
> Time slot: 9:00-9:30 p.m., Tuesday

“New Girl” stars Emmy and Golden Globe nominee Zooey Deschanel. The series itself received numerous awards after its first season, including nominations for five Emmys. Considering the cost of advertising, however, the program’s household share is low compared with other programs charging high fees for ad spots. Still, by the end of the second season last May, the show received praise, particularly for the transformation of Deschanel’s character, Jess.

5. The Simpsons
> 30-second spot price: $256,963
> Network: FOX
> Weekly viewers: 6.8 million (52nd highest)
> Seasons on air: 25
> Time slot: 8:00-8:30 p.m., Sunday

“The Simpsons,” now entering its 25th season, has been on the air longer than any other scripted show in television history. “The Simpsons” has garnered a number of other superlatives and awards since its creation, including 27 Emmys. Even after a quarter of a century, the show still draws nearly 4 million 18 to 49 year olds per week — the most targeted age group for advertisers. According to Gary Newman, chairman and CEO of 20th Century FOX TV, “Simpsons” reruns likely will be shopped for syndication for the first time.

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4. Modern Family
> 30-second spot price: $257,435
> Network: ABC
> Weekly viewers: 12.6 million (13th highest)
> Seasons on air: five
> Time slot: 9:00-9:30 p.m., Wednesday

This mockumentary-style show has received an Emmy for best comedy every year since it first aired in 2009. The success has led “Modern Family” to an off-network syndication, for which it underwent a bidding war before it was finally acquired by USA Network for $1.4 million an episode. According to data released earlier this month, “Modern Family” on USA debuted as the most popular syndicated program among women. With more than 12 million people already watching “Modern Family” each week on average, USA’s nine-hour weekly showing will likely increase the program’s total audience.

3. The Voice (both Monday and Tuesday)
> 30-second spot price: $264,575/$229,167
> Network: NBC
> Weekly viewers: 15.4 million (5th highest) / 13.8 million (8th highest)
> Seasons on air: five
> Time slot: 8:00-10:00 p.m., Monday, 9:00-10:00 p.m., Tuesday

“The Voice” airs on Mondays and Tuesdays at 8:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m., respectively. Both time slots command 30-second ad spots worth well over $200,000 each. “The Voice” was brought to the U.S. from the franchise’s home in the Netherlands, when NBC bought it for $2 million an episode. According to John de Mol, the creator of the show and a number of other successful programs, he chose NBC as the recipient because the network was “in bad shape,” and he thought they would do best by it. Weekly views so far this season for both time slots are among the highest on network television. Apart from “Sunday Night Football,” “The Voice” is NBC’s biggest prime time draw.

2. The Big Bang Theory
> 30-second spot price: $326,260
> Network: CBS
> Weekly viewers: 20.0 million (3rd highest)
> Seasons on air: seven
> Time slot: 8:00-8:30 p.m., Thursday

Chuck Lorre’s comedy “The Big Bang Theory” is seven seasons old. This season, a 30-second ad spot cost $326,260, considerably less than NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” but well more than any other prime time show. Based on data on the current television season, “The Big Bang Theory” is one of only three programs that draw more than 20 million viewers per week, after “NCIS” and “Sunday Night Football.” The show’s success has been attributed in part to the scriptwriters’ blend of comedy and academia.

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1. NBC Sunday Night Football
> 30-second spot price: $570,000
> Network: NBC
> Weekly viewers: 21.3 million (the highest)
> Seasons on air: eight
> Time slot: starts 8:30 p.m., Sunday

The National Football League commands the highest unit cost for advertising of any TV franchise. “Sunday Night Football” is no exception, attracting far more viewers and much better ratings than other prime time network television programs. More than 10 million people between ages 18 and 49 watch the broadcast. The next highest view-count for this age category is less than 8 million. NBC’s audience surged this past weekend when “Sunday Night Football” drew the best prime time rating in 15 years, due in part to Peyton Manning’s return to Indianapolis.