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Ad clients restless for young

So what do TV advertisers really fork out for — household numbers or those younger demos?

The latest Nielsen primetime TV advertising rates estimate underscores that it’s the younger viewers that ad clients want.

The periodically updated report, which includes numbers current through September, goes a long way toward explaining the network obsession with adults 18-49.

The real light bulb in the survey to casual TV viewers is the relatively low cost of 30-second spots within series whoseaudience composition is skewed to the 50-plus age bracket.

Another eye-opener is the preference for situation comedies over all genres, which goes a long way toward explaining why roughly four dozen half-hours got crammed into primetime when schedules were assembled last May.

“Murder, She Wrote” may be the most enlightening case study. According to the Nielsen report, all three competing 8 p.m. Sunday programs are asking more per 30 than “Murder”– which is listed at $ 75,000 a spot — because of their younger demo skew. Those entries are “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” (around $ 121,500), “seaQuest DSV” ($ 101,000), “Martin” ($ 113,600) and “Living Single” ($ 83,400).

“Murder” in fact ranks fourth within the hour among adults 18-49. But thanks to what some pundits might describe as the blue-haired set, the household rating/share breakdown tells a different story. Season to date, the tally goes “Murder,” 17.0/25; “seaQuest,” 10.6/16; “Lois & Clark,” 10.5/16; the surprising “Living Single” (10.0/15) and “Martin” (9.3/14).

“Advertisers know that it’s the alte kackers that are watching ‘Murder, She Wrote,’ ” says Steve Auerbach, exec VP at DeWitt Media, who sums up the advertiser/agency mindset as “the younger the better.” Media buyers note that the Nielsen numbers have improved in terms of accuracy but still tend to run about 10% high and frequently betray some puzzling disparities — such as the listing of “Coach” slightly ahead of its higher-rated lead-in “Roseanne” in per-unit cost.

Pump you up

As for other disclaimers, network sources point out wryly that agency wags, who make the estimates, tend to pump up the figures so they can report back to their clients about what good deals they scored. Also, since spots are often bought in packages, it’s possible that an advertiser may pay more than what he or she thinks a spot in “Thea” is worth, for example, to get what’s considered to be a good deal on a hit like “Home Improvement”– at just under $ 273,000 per spot, the most expensive entertainment program on the roster.

For all of that, the broad strokes are clear: Eight of the top 10 and 15 of the top 20 programs in terms of per-unit cost are half-hour comedies. “Home Improvement,” in fact, is followed by five other sitcoms in the $ 200,000-plus strata –“Coach,””Roseanne,””Seinfeld,””Frasier” and “Murphy Brown”– plus “The Simpsons” before the first drama, “Northern Exposure,” cracks the list.

Topping the entire index is “Monday Night Football,” listed at more than $ 283,000 a spot because of its hold on the elusive male market.

Sweet youth

Advertisers are drawn to younger demos — and in particular adults 18-49 — for a number of reasons. The arguments include more people on average per household (indicating higher purchasing volume), more malleable buying habits in terms of trying new products and greater responsiveness to ads.

Still, with the populace aging, the networks can’t entirely overlook older demographics: Consider CBS’ push toward the 35-54 and even 35-64 bracket, both of which boast higher incomes than their younger counterparts and more tractable purchasing practices than earlier studies have suggested.

Despite the older skew of many of its programs, CBS recently posted record earnings, maintaining that the network is commanding premiums across all dayparts in its scatter ad sales.

As for perhaps the season’s most celebrated show in terms of advertising pressure, ABC’s “NYPD Blue” is listed at $ 87,900 in September. That’s a low-ball figure, according to ABC officials, who admit that the show hasn’t been fully sponsored in terms of the number of ads in each hour but say the prices have been improving into solid six-figure territory.

It doesn’t hurt, of course, that the controversial hour is TV’s highest-rated new drama this season.

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