The network is seeking between $1.2 million and $1.5 million for a 30-second ad in the finale of the veteran series, according to two people familiar with negotiations between CBS and its advertisers. Those figures would represent a price approximately five to six times higher than the average cost to run an ad in the show this season. The last original episode in the series is slated for broadcast on May 16.
CBS declined to make executives available for comment.
The prices are astronomical in the current market, and suggest CBS is confident in the power of the series’ denouement to attract a sizable crowd at a time when doing so has become more complex, thanks to viewer migration to streaming services and video-on-demand. The series, led by Chuck Lorre and produced by Warner Brothers, and starring Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki and Kaley Cuoco, is in the midst of its 12th season on the air.
The average cost for a 30-second ad in “Big Bang” for the current season hovers around $258,500, according to estimates from four media buyers. At $1.5 million, the price for a 30-second spot in the series finale would represent a 480% premium over current-season ad costs.
Yet series finales often draw bigger crowds than a normal episode. The last episode of “Seinfeld” drew 76 million viewers, for example, when NBC showed it on May 14, 1998. And the final original broadcast of “M*A*S*H” lured a whopping 105.9 million viewers when CBS ran it in 1983 – and remains one of the most-watched TV events of all time.
The cost to advertise in each of those shows was eye-popping: NBC sought between $1.4 million and $1.8 million for a 30-second spot in the “Seinfeld” ending, while CBS pressed for $450,000 to run a spot in the last broadcast of “M*A*S*H.”
Other famous finales have also cost big sums. A 30-second ad berth in the last episode of “Friends,” which ran on NBC in 2004, went for between $1.5 million and $2.3 million, while a 30-second slot in CBS’ final episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond” in 2005 cost around $1.3 million.
Even so, the figures CBS is seeking for “Big Bang” are higher than the ad costs associated with more recent series farewells. CBS sought a mere $500,000 for a 30-second spot in the last episode of “How I Met Your Mother” in 2014. In 2010, ABC pressed for between $850,000 and $900,000 for a 30-second spot on the last episode of “Lost, “ while Fox asked for $650,000 for the same amount of inventory in the series finale of the original run of “24.”
“Big Bang” has been among TV’s most pricey programs for advertisers. Football games are typically command TV’s highest ad prices, but “Big Bang” is among the most expensive scripted shows on TV for Madison Avenue, according to Variety’s annual survey of TV ad prices. In the 2017-2018 TV season, only AMC’s “Walking Dead” NBC’s “This Is Us” and Fox’s “Empire” cost more. A 30-second ad in “Dead” cost an average of $415,000 while a 30-second spot in “Us” cost “394,3145” and one in “Empire” cost an average of $294.141. In 2017, a 30-second spot in “Big Bang” went for an average of $255,419.
This season, some of that positioning was reversed. A 30-second ad in “Empire” cost $196,310, compared with “Bang’s” current $258,000. Costs for “Dead” and “Us” remain higher.
The outsize price for the “Big Bang” finale isn’t likely to apply to every sponsor. Advertisers who purchased the show during TV’s annual “upfront” ad-sales market probably got a better deal. The current figures may represent an early offer, and buyers can haggle. Whether CBS accepts something lower will no doubt depend on demand.