TV’s latest emerging hit takes all the thrills of a traditional reality competition program and mixes in an awful lot of drama.
It’s not a knock-off of “American Idol” or a new MTV series. Instead, it’s something that might be best compared to a Sunday public-affairs program laced with amphetamine.
CNN is seeking exponentially high prices for ad packages set to run in its broadcast of two debates among Democratic presidential hopefuls next week, according to a person familiar with the matter. The AT&T-owned cable-news outlet is requires a commitment of $300,000 in advertising on the network before a potential sponsor can purchase commercials within the two debate telecasts. The minimum requirement is pegged at around $300,000, according to a person familiar with the matter, while a 30-second spot airing in the debates is seen costing around $110,000. A 30-second ad in CNN’s primetime programs has over the last few months cost between $7,000 and $12,000, according to SQAD MediaCosts.
The high prices reflect the outsize audiences generated by live coverage of events related to the White House and the Trump presidency. NBCUniversal’s recent two-night coverage of a similar batch of Democratic debates lured an average of approximately 15.3 million viewers for the first event and a record-setting 18.1 million viewers for the second. NBCU’s telecast appeared on NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo. CNN will broadcast its debates live from Detroit on its flagship U.S. cable outlet and also stream it live to anyone who wishes to view it.
The total costs would likely total more than a package of commercials on AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” or the price of a 30-second ad placed in the most recent season of “Empire” on Fox or “The Big Bang Theory” on CBS, according to a Variety survey of primetime ad prices. CNN has tapped Dana Bash. Don Lemon and Jake Tapper to moderate both evenings.
“There is significant demand around our debates,” says Katrina Cukaj. an executive vice president of ad sales at WarnerMedia, the AT&T unit that houses CNN. “There are some really intense storylines that came out of that [previous] debate. I think the curiosity around those storylines is at a peak,” she says, referring to a clash between former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris, slated to meet again during CNN’s second-day telecast. She adds: “I will tell you, we are nearly sold out. We’ve got a couple of pending accounts still in there, but we are going to be done pretty much any day now.” She declined to offer a specific cost for advertising during the event.
To keep live audiences interested in the commercials around the debate, CNN intends to use “squeezebacks” or a graphic presentation during ad breaks that shows both the advertising as well as a live shot of the debate stage. The technique gives viewers more of the programming they originally tuned in to see even as commercials run.
At a time when more viewers are migrating to on-demand streaming services to watch their favorite TV shows, live sports and news programming have grown in value to TV networks and advertisers, all of whom seek the broadest audiences possible.
In a sign of the expectation that a wide swath of consumers will tune in CNN next week, the biggest category of advertiser backing the debate is movie studios, says Cukaj. Four different studios are slated to advertise during the event, she said, with Walt Disney’s 20th Century Fox running TV ads and buying a home-page takeover of CNN.com on desktop and mobile for its sci-fi drama “Ad Astra,” which stars Brad Pitt. Movie studios haven’t typically been the biggest advertisers on cable-news networks, which rely on pharmaceutical commercials and direct-response ads to fill a good chunk of their schedules, though CNN has made efforts to win more movie advertising with its documentary programming. Movie studios have flocked to other CNN debate telecasts as well.
Advertiser interest in news coverage is so high in the current cycle that NBC Sports on Tuesday unveiled a pitch for its 2020 broadcast of the Tokyo Olympics stressing that it would bring families and audiences together rather than stirring arguments. The next Summer Olympics will be sandwiched between the Democratic National Convention, which takes place July 13 and July 16 of next year, and the Republican National Convention, which airs between August 24 and August 27. NBC will no doubt have to vie with news programming around that time that will also draw wide interest.
Cukaj remains hopeful that the demand the network is seeing for next week’s debate augurs well for its efforts to bring advertisers to other parts of its election and politics programming. “We go out at it early, and we have got some pretty good partners already lined up,” she says.