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To Lure Ad Dollars, NBC Tied Megyn Kelly to ‘Today’

Morning TV viewers have yet to become accustomed to the sight of Megyn Kelly on their screens, but they certainly recognize NBC’s long-running “Today.”  To sell Madison Avenue on her soon-to-launch new morning show, NBC is packaging the new anchor inside the familiar A.M. concept.

NBC has already indicated that Kelly’s program will be considered part of the overall “Today” franchise – and is using that to soothe marketers who might fret over supporting an unproven entry in the schedule. “It won’t be like ‘Today’ show ends at 8:59, Megyn Kelly’s new talk show starts at 9 and then ‘Today’ with Kathy Lee and Hoda starts at 10,” says one media buyer familiar with negotiations around Kelly’s new show. “She will be in a very protected spot” that nods to NBC’s bigger morning architecture, this buyer said.

Kelly’s program is part of an ambitious effort by NBC to shake up its morning schedule by combining an anchor known for an aggressive interviewing style with a live studio audience. As controversy continues to swirl around President Trump, many networks have placed new emphasis on a hard-news presentation in their morning shows – programs that once were more comforting and easy-going.

At the nation’s two biggest morning programs, NBC’s “Today” and ABC’s “Good Morning America,” some of the old trappings are gone. As the shows open, the focus is on fewer personalities, part of an effort to let NBC’s Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie or ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Robin Roberts and Michael Strahan get to the headlines more quickly. “CBS This Morning” has made audience gains by offering fewer A.M. frills. CNN’s “New Day” and MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” have little in the way to offer in terms of weather reports and animal videos, and instead feature probing interviews and hard remarks about the political scene, while Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends” often snares an exclusive interview with the President.

Kelly’s new hour, slated to debut September 25, is backed by producers familiar with “Today” and morning TV. Jackie Levin, a senior producer at “Today” who oversees series, specials and books, will be Kelly’s executive producer –  lending more credence to the notion that the NBC morning mainstay will maintain presence during the slot.

NBC seems eager to get ad prices for the 9 a.m show on par with what they are for the first two hours of “Today,” according to ad buyers.   The average cost of a 30-second spot in the 9 a.m. hour of “Today” for the first five months of the year was $13,233, according to Standard Media Index, a tracker of ad spending. In contrast, the average price of a 30-second ad in the first two hours of “Today” was $52,325.

Yet the move has left some buyers with raised eyebrows. “They came out early saying they wanted a double-digit premium for Megyn Kelly versus what we used to pay for the 9-10 a.m. hour of ‘Today,’” said another buying executive. “What made this difficult to swallow was that they did not increase their ratings estimate.”

NBC swung for the fences in early negotiations for the program, according to ad buyers – seeking ad rate hikes of as much as 25% to 30% in the cost of reaching 1,000 viewers. That measure, known in the industry as a CPM, is central to discussions between networks and advertisers. Ad buyers said NBC in some cases was willing to make pricing concessions in other parts of its schedule in exchange for the higher rates in Kelly’s new hour, for advertisers who buy broader packages of ad time.

NBC declined to make executives available for comment.

The network has reason to try something new. Viewership for the hour is down season to date as of July 9, according Nielsen. Viewers between the age of 25 and 54 have declined by 6.5% in that time frame, to about 979,000, according to Nielsen. The overall audience has dipped 11.2%, to an average of about 2.83 million.

Buyers suggest there has been some cause for concern: The ratings for Kelly’s new Sunday newsmagazine, which launched in early June, have ebbed. Some advertisers avoided a June 18th broadcast featuring a controversial interview between Kelly and provocateur Alex Jones. One advertiser that did sponsor that telecast – Snuggle detergent – said it was not likely to return to it in the near future. “We have paused our advertising for this time slot going forward,” the marketer said via Twitter. A spokesman for consumer-products manufacturer Henkel, which makes Snuggle, did not respond to a query seeking comment.

One of the ad buyers suggested that recent hullaballoo would have little effect on the new morning program. “I don’t think it’s turned anyone off,” this buyer said. “I think expectations are that it will do about as well” as the current 9 a.m. slot.  “If it improved over that hour, it would be a win.”

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