‘Duck Dynasty’: Advertisers Paying Big Bucks Despite Controversy

A&E reality show commands higher rates than 'NCIS,' other broadcast series

Duck Dynasty

What conflict? Advertisers are willing to pay more for a package of ads in A&E’s reality series “Duck Dynasty” than they are for a 30-second spot in plenty of other popular TV programs.

And marketers do not appear to be leaving “Duck Dynasty” despite the controversy stirred by star Phil Robertson with his remarks about gays and African Americans in a recent magazine interview. The fifth season of the show bows Jan. 15.

“Across our client base, it didn’t really reach the level of a reason to remove advertising – at least, not yet,” said one ad buyer, who noted sponsors would likely have been more alarmed had Robertson spoken out on the show rather than in GQ  magazine.

According to media buyers, a flight of commercials designed to accompany several airings of an episode of “Duck Dynasty” on A&E goes for $170,000 to $180,000. At those prices, the cost of a “Duck Dynasty” ad deal is more than the average price advertisers plunk down for a single 30-second commercial in such notable programs as CBS’ “NCIS” ($154,025); NBC’s “The Michael J. Fox Show” ($95,597); ABC’s “Nashville” ($107,721) and both editions of Fox’s “The X-Factor” ($166,601 on Wednesdays, $161,429 on Thursdays), according to a Variety survey of commercial prices for the 2013-2014 TV season.

“Duck Dynasty” has enjoyed a surge of ad revenue as its ratings spiked last year. In 2012, the show lured a little more than $40 million from sponsors, according to Kantar, a tracker of ad spending. For the first nine months of 2013, “Duck Dynasty” attracted nearly $80 million. A spokesman for A+E Networks said the company declined to comment on ad prices for the show or conversations it may be having with sponsors.

To be sure, sponsors shell out more to appear in TV’s top-rated programs,which include AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” NBC’s “Sunday Night Football, CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” and ABC’s “Modern Family.” But the willingness to open wallets to such a degree for a cable series suggests advertisers want the big audience numbers the show delivers.

The bearded characters of “Duck Dynasty” have captured the national fancy, particularly in heartland markets, since 2012. The series revolves around the home-spun antics of the Robertson family of West Monroe, La., and the rags-to-riches story of their duck-hunting supply business. The series’ fourth-season premiere in August captured 11.8 million viewers, and ratings stayed in the 10 million-11 million range for the rest of the run.

“Duck Dynasty” has also been a merchandising juggernaut for A&E and the Robertson clan. But things took a turn in December when GQ published inflammatory remarks from Phil Robertson about gays and African Americans. A+E Networks at first said it would suspend Robertson from the series, then made an about-face after that maneuver prompted outcry from supporters. The episodes premiering next week were filmed before the controversy erupted.

Marketers have proven willing in the past to ditch cable reality series that seemed likely to raise eyebrows. In late 2011, home-improvement retailer Lowe’s pulled its advertising from “All-American Muslim,”a reality series on TLC, citing complaints made by an advocacy organization known as the Florida Family Assn. The series followed the lives of a handful of Muslim families living around Dearborn, Michigan. The decision sparked backlash, and other advertisers continued to support the program. Even so,”All-American Muslim” was canceled in Spring 2012.