What it costs to advertise on US TV

Most of us who deal in digital these days – either as a supplier or customer – often tend to forget how much advertising used to run to before the advent of the web, and particularly the rise of Google and other online pureplays, like Seek, in disrupting traditional advertising monopolies.

I recently found a statement from an ad I ran in the Yellow Pages (yes, the Book!) way back in 1995, when I’d just taken over our family catering business. It was 2 simple lines of text, inside a little box, and cost around $800. I don’t recall receiving a single call from the ad, but back then it was a necessary cost of business – everyone had to have a Yellow Pages listing, there was nothing else!

2 decades later when I went to work for Sensis, I learned that this same ad now cost around $2,500, and in 2008 businesses still ran these ads as a matter of obligation, as we all started working out how this digital advertising bizo really worked. At the time I did some comparisons on other Melbourne Metro advertising options:

1 Full Page Colour Ad in the Melbourne Metro Yellow Pages (1 year) $64,000
1 Full Page B&W Ad in the Age Newspaper (1 day) $20,000
Metro TV Spot, averaged across timeslots (per 30 seconds) $14,000

Given that we can get a semi qualified click-through to our websites from a Google or Facebook ad for as little as $1 these days, the numbers above seem inconceivable, and for the most part the monopoly businesses that existed for decades supported by this type of advertising have been decimated. Sensis and Fairfax are a mere shadow of their glory days.

TV, however, remains the dominant channel (no pun intended!) for reaching a mass audience in a controlled way, and while most of do (or wish to) skip these ads, they still command a vast premium over any other medium. I’ve been meaning to write this up for a while now, so the original post is a few months old, but it’s still quite incredible to see how much Prime Time advertising goes for on US TV to this day! Here are the top costing spots, according to Variety, for a 30 second ad:

– NBC Sunday Night Football (NBC) 2014: $623,425

– Thursday Night Football (CBS) 2014: $492,500

– The Walking Dead* (AMC) Sunday 2014: $413,695

– Monday Night Football (ESPN) 2014: $397,898

– The Big Bang Theory (CBS) Monday 2014: $327,885

Yup, that’s right – up to $623,425 to feature your brand for just 30 seconds, in a medium which audiences are doing their best to avoid seeing.

So, next time you’re grumbling about the price of your AdWords clicks, spare a thought for the top end of town, and remember what we used to have to spend before Google!

Here’s the original Variety article, with a full breakdown of US TV ad spot costs: What it costs to advertise on US TV

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