Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Scripted Advantage

Back in late 2009, I decided to connect ad rates with viewership numbers and demographic numbers to determine if adults 18-49 truly was the thing driving advertising dollars.  This was a pretty informative undertaking in its own right (well, at least for me) but it also left me with a lot of data that I could take down a few other avenues, potentially. The only post to come out of it was Monday Morning QBing Ad Rates, which took the predicted value of a demo point (about $40k per spot) and applied it to the new shows of the 2009-10 season to see how close their speculation was.

Another thing I wanted to do but never got around to was a brief look at whether there's an inherent advantage to scripted TV. In other words, does it get more dollars for the same demo than unscripted TV? I was inspired to revisit this by the recent posts at TVByTheNumbers attacking the notion that broadcast networks are "serious" about scripted TV this summer, a notion that often cites "higher ad rates for scripted TV" as a reason why getting serious is a good thing.

Returning to the 34 shows I looked at last season which returned to the same timeslot in fall 2009 that they held in 2008-09 (using only those shows to minimize the power of speculation), I broke them up into 24 scripted shows and 10 unscripted shows. Here are the 24 scripted:

Demo Price Price/pt
Simpsons 3.4 201920 59388.24
Family Guy 4 214750 53687.5
Parks & Recreation 2.4 119990 49995.83
30 Rock 3.3 159674 48386.06
American Dad 2.9 136388 47030.34
Private Practice 3.8 175450 46171.05
The Office 4.3 191236 44473.49
2.5 Men 5.1 226635 44438.24
Desperate Housewives 5.3 228851 43179.43
Grey's Anatomy 5.7 240462 42186.32
CSI 4.8 198647 41384.79
Brothers & Sisters 3.5 140445 40127.14
Bones 2.7 107942 39978.52
Castle 2.4 92700 38625
Old Christine 2.1 80106 38145.71
CSI: New York 3.4 127941 37629.71
Dollhouse 1.5 56370 37580
Numb3rs 2.3 85007 36959.57
NCIS 3.65 133304 36521.64
Gary Unmarried 2.2 79986 36357.27
House 5.1 183298 35940.78
CSI: Miami 4 140065 35016.25
Criminal Minds 3.6 116553 32375.83
Ghost Whisperer 2.5 78047 31218.8

Average here is $41,533.23 per demo point. (Correlation r = 0.91)  And the ten unscripted:

Demo Price Price/pt
DWTS (Tuesday) 3.9 172570 44248.72
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition 3.3 136743 41437.27
Survivor 4 152246 38061.5
DWTS (Monday) 4.7 178687 38018.51
The Biggest Loser 3.6 128295 35637.5
Bachelor 4 139500 34875
60 Minutes 2.7 93772 34730.37
AFHV 2.2 75893 34496.82
Celebrity Apprentice 3.2 110283 34463.44
Amazing Race 3.2 109736 34292.5

And the average here is $37,026.16. (r = 0.94)

Now of course, it's a fairly small sample size, and there are other things factored in like other demographics, speculation, miscellaneous factors yadda yadda yadda. But while the difference isn't huge, it's there, and it's somewhat significant: a scripted show averages about 12% more ad dollars than an unscripted show with the same demo.

But let's break it down again into comedies and dramas, because as you can see, a lot of the really big per-point amounts are in the comedy column. I get an average of $46,488.36 per A18-49 point for comedies (r = 0.92) and $38,326.32 for dramas (r = 0.97). So the difference between a drama and an unscripted is merely 3.5%, while comedies are well ahead of both, including a 26% advantage over unscripted.

So the real question is: does any of this matter? Well, it matters for comedies, which likely command the higher rates because of their strength in demos beyond all adults 18-49 (like 18-34, males, and rich people). But comedies aren't what are getting greenlit by the nets for the summer. When you talk about a 4% advantage for dramas over unscripted, that's probably within the margin of error of this rough methodology I'm using. Even if it is right, when you get up into broadcast hit territory (4.0+) you're talking about a drama commanding the same value as an unscripted show that's maybe 0.1 or 0.2 stronger in the demo. Yes, the extra money adds up, but I really doubt it adds up to anything approaching the difference in production costs. Maybe if some more info about TV production costs ever gets leaked to the public, this is a topic I can return to.

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