NBC better not spend that $30 million-plus in Seinfeld finale ad revenue all in one place. Advertisers, who empty their wallets every June buying time on the networks’ new fall schedules, are going to be pinching their pennies next season.
In the past, CBS, NBC, and ABC have been able to command impressive rate increases from advertisers despite losing viewers to Fox, The WB, UPN, and cable. But those days look to be over. Last year, all six nets took in about $6 billion in what’s known as the up-front market, a 5 percent increase from 1996-97. This year’s best estimates have that figure staying flat or dropping slightly. ”Every year we pay more money for less viewers,” laments Bill Croasdale, national broadcast division president of Western Media, a media-buying firm.
That’s bad news for the Big Three, which continue to spend heavily on programming in the hopes of covering costs with ad bucks. NBC, for one, will soon be paying Mad About You‘s Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser $1 million each per episode, in addition to ER’s $13 million per show.
And there’s more bad news: A new software program, the Optimizer, is changing the way advertisers spread their money around. In a nutshell, the program tells buyers how to best get the audience they want at the lowest price, which could mean more ad bucks for cable nets (which last year cleared 2.2 billion in up-front money).
Optimizer shloptimizer, say the TV nets. NBC president and CEO Bob Wright argues that ”all eyeballs are not equal.” In other words, Peacock viewers make more money than those glued to cable. On top of that, says NBC West Coast president Don Ohlmeyer, his net offers one-stop shopping: To equal the reach of a commercial on, say, ER, you’d have to buy 187 commericals on USA, TNT, and TBS. That’s a lot of optimizing.
The biggest surprise of the up-fronts was just how few high-profile star vehicles made it onto the networks’ fall lineups: CBS is holding both its Melanie Griffith sitcom, Me & Henry, and its Ted Danson project, Becker, for mid-season; its remake of Fawlty Towers with John Larroquette looks to be kaput. Over at ABC, Luke Perry’s sports-agent drama, The Game, and The Jon Lovitz Show appear to be DOA. And Fox and NBC have passed on a Paula Poundstone comedy and a Rob Lowe sitcom, respectively. Perhaps a lesson was learned last season.
The battle royal this fall will be when NBC’s Just Shoot Me squares off against ABC’s Spin City, both of which are moving to Tuesdays at 9 p.m. At NBC’s schedule presentation, Shoot Me star David Spade mocked Spin’s Michael J. Fox, who, he suggested, will be crying for former Family Ties sis Mallory before it’s all over. Tuesday will host another big fight, between aging 8 p.m. heavyweights Home Improvement and Mad About You. Expect Home to win that one.