A thirty-second commercial during last Sunday’s Super Bowl cost about $4 million, which is by far the most expensive advertising time money can buy in the world. For that price, advertisers had a chance to reach more than 110 million viewers simultaneously, and Fox sold its ad spots to a host of brands, including Super Bowl mainstays Bud Light, Doritos, Coca-Cola, Chevy, and many others.
While the Super Bowl is played just once a year, regular television series can air episodes dozens of times each season. This gives viewers a chance to engage in the story for months at a time, and gives networks an opportunity to sell as much advertising as they can during the shows’ commercial breaks.
Television ratings have seen a general downward trend in recent years, as the explosion of entertainment options available to the average viewer has increased competition for eyeballs immensely. Whereas American viewers used to have just a few broadcast networks to choose from, nowadays those broadcasters have to fend off challenges from hundreds of niche cable channels and countless Internet entertainment options like Netflix.
As the broadcast networks deal with audience fragmentation, especially in the key younger demographics that advertisers are willing to pay for, hit shows that can draw a huge audience have become precious commodities.
Advertisers are still willing to pay big money for shows that reach their target markets, and the networks are willing to invest millions of dollars trying to develop the next runaway hit.
Here are the ten most expensive prime time television shows to advertise on, according to a survey conducted by the industry publisher Ad Age last fall. All prices are for 30-second spots.
10 The Following, Fox: $211,832
Kicking off the top ten most expensive shows to advertise on is Fox’s The Following, a psychological-thriller dramatic series that just premiered its second season last month. The Following revolves around a former FBI agent (Kevin Bacon) who is hellbent on capturing an escaped serial killer and stopping his dangerous cult of followers. The Following airs on Mondays, and a 30-second spot costs advertisers nearly $212,000.
9 The Simpsons, Fox: $231,532
If any television show needs no introduction, it’s The Simpsons. The venerable animated sitcom holds a bevy of broadcast records for longevity, and its run has spanned generations, with 541 episodes aired over 25 seasons. The show follows the adventures of the Simpson family and the other townspeople of Springfield, a fictional American city, where the series satirizes almost every aspect of culture, society, family, and entertainment. The Simpsons, already considered one of the best television shows of all time, is still going strong, airing on Fox Sunday nights.
8 New Girl, Fox: $236,857
New Girl is a single-camera sitcom in its third season on the Fox network. The series stars Zooey Deschanel as a teacher who moves into a Los Angeles apartment with three male roommates. The show has been praised by critics as a promising newer series, and performs particularly well in the ratings for the 18-49 demographic that advertisers covet. New Girl airs Tuesday nights, and a 30-second spot costs about $236,000.
7 The Voice (results), NBC, $278,987
The Voice is a reality singing competition series airing on NBC. Its sixth season will premiere later this month, when coaches Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Shakira, and Usher will watch dozens of hopeful contestants perform songs as they try to advance in the competition. The Voice splits its program into two nights per week, one for the actual singing, and one for the results of the fan voting process that decides which contestants will advance. The results edition of The Voice usually airs on Tuesdays, one day after the performance episode.
6 Modern Family, ABC: $281,951
Modern Family is a single-camera comedy with a mockumentary filming style that debuted in the fall of 2009. The show centers on Jay Pritchett (Ed O’Neill) and his large and often quirky family. Critical reception for the show was strong immediately, and Modern Family has won the last four consecutive Emmy awards for outstanding comedy series, one for each year the show has been on the air. ABC airs Modern Family on Wednesday nights.
5 American Idol (results), Fox: $289,942
American Idol is the reality singing competition series that started them all when it launched in the summer of 2002. Its 13th season premiered on Fox this month, and this year the judges are musical celebrities Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, and Harry Connick, Jr. Contestants vie for the chance to advance in the competition with solo singing performances, and viewers vote on who they’d like to remain on the program. Fox airs the results portion of the show on Thursday nights, one day after the performances.
4 The Voice, NBC: $294,038
The performance episodes of The Voice typically get higher ratings than the results shows, so advertisers have to pay a bit more for commercials on the main program. The Voice differs from solo-focused American Idol by organizing its competition into teams with celebrity coaches. NBC airs the performance portion of The Voice on Monday nights.
3 The Big Bang Theory, CBS, $316,912
The Big Bang Theory is a multi-camera sitcom created by multi-camera master Chuck Lorre, who has helmed a number of commercially successful sitcoms for CBS. The Big Bang Theory follows the lives of two male engineers, two male scientists, and a female waitress all living as neighbors in Southern California. The series draws huge ratings, and is the most-watched scripted series currently on television. CBS airs new episodes of the show on Thursday nights.
2 American Idol, Fox: $355,943
The performance episodes of American Idol draw bigger ratings and pricier TV spots than any other non-sports series in the world. Since its debut 12 years ago, American Idol has changed the landscape of television and launched the entertainment careers of many pop stars, including Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Jordin Sparks, and Taylor Hicks. Fox airs the performance episodes of American Idol on Monday nights.
1 Sunday Night Football, NBC, $593,694
No other entertainment content in the world is as valuable as NFL football. While Fox can charge $355,000 for a 30-second spot on American Idol, commercials on NBC’s Sunday Night Football series cost an astounding $237,000 more per spot. As the only prime time broadcast edition of professional football, NBC’s SNF enjoys its status as the undisputed ratings and ad dollars king of television. The NFL maintains Sunday Night Football’s dominance each year with a slate of excellent match-ups, typically featuring stars like Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Russell Wilson.