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Madison Avenue Agrees To Higher Prices For ‘Blacklist,’ ‘Sleepy Hollow,’ ‘Scandal’ – And More

Advertisers are known for trying to get the most exposure for their commercials for the least amount of money. Sometimes, even a hard-line negotiator must make concessions.

Madison Avenue is willing to pay higher prices for a range of returning TV programs this year – even though sponsors appear to have earmarked less for TV this fall than in the past.

And no wonder: The average price for a 30-second spot in NBC’s sophomore hit drama “The Blacklist” has soared 62.7% – to $294,586 from $174,943, according to Variety’s annual survey of primetime commercial prices. The average cost of a similar spot in Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow” has surged 42.7% – to $188,232 from $131,933 last season. And ABC’s “Scandal” now fetches an average price – $217,423 – that is 16.8% above last year’s average of $186,202.

Even some mid-tier veterans are benefiting. Consider the case of NBC’s long-running “Law & Order: SVU.” The average cost of a 30-second spot in the series this season is $92,207, a 27% increase from last season’s average of $72,581. Advertisers also seem to have given the go-ahead for a 26.3% increase for a 30-second spot on CBS’ “Blue Bloods,” where the average price this fall is $84,850, compared to $67,158 last season.

At these prices, there’s little mystery as to why marketers seemed more circumspect during TV’s recent “upfront” marketplace, that annual time when TV networks try to sell the bulk of their advertising inventory in advance. According to Variety estimates, advertisers committed between $8.17 billion and $8.94 billion for this autumn’s broadcast primetime schedule, compared with between $8.6 billion and $9.2 billion in 2013. Ad buyers have suggested marketers have placed more emphasis on digital media including mobile, social and streaming video.

To be sure, not every primetime price is on the rise. “Grey’s Anatomy,” which last fall commanded an average of $209,542 for a 30-second spot, gets less this season: just $158,411, according to Variety’s analysis, representing a dip of 24.4%. The series moved to an earlier time slot, 8 p.m., for this season. And Fox’s “The Following” will get an average of $168,437 for a 30-second berth – 36.3% below last year’s average of $264,300.

The figures in Variety’s commercial-price analysis should be taken as directional indicators, not hard figures written in stone. TV ad prices vary wildly from one sponsor to the next, depending upon the relationship a marketer or media-buying agency has with a particular network, or even whether a TV ad buy is part of a larger package that includes digital advertising. The simple fact of the business is that no one buys a single commercial for a single figure. Instead, most marketers buy larger packages of inventory and arrange them in a schedule designed to meet certain viewership guarantees.

There may be reason for some of the price hikes. NBC’s recent surge in ratings for the advertiser-coveted crowd of people between 18 and 49 is likely to have pushed up levels at many points of its broader schedule. In the case of ABC’s “The Goldbergs,” the sitcom has been moved to one of ABC’s most stable nights, Wednesdays, where it is sandwiched between the durable “The Middle” and hit “Modern Family.” Last fall, a 30-second spot on the comedy cost an average of $94,260. In 2014, the average cost has increased 14.6% to $108,069.

Even “Supernatural,” which has been on the air so long it was on the schedule of TV’s now-defunct WB network, is gaining. Last fall, “Supernatural” commanded an average of $37,348 for a 30-second spot. This fall, the CW drama is getting an average of $42,598, representing an increase of 14.1%, according to Variety’s figures. The CW moved the drama to Wednesday nights from a long exile on Fridays back in 2012. This fall, it is airing on Tuesdays paired with freshman superhero serial “The Flash.”

Programs that run on Friday nights appear to be gaining leverage as well . The average cost of a 30-second spot in ABC’s “Shark Tank” has increased 39.7% to $118,229 from $$84,621. And the average cost of 30-second ad in NBC’s “Grimm” has increased 40% to $117,877 from $84,188.

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