Leno's Finale Means Impressive Ad Haul For NBC
Right now, NBC is considering possible advertising plans for Leno's last night as host of "The Tonight Show," which NBC recently said is now Friday, May 29, 2009. Conan O'Brien, host of NBC's "Late Night," takes over as "Tonight Show" host on Monday, June 1. At press time, an NBC spokeswoman had no comment about how it would be sold to marketers.
Typically, "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" gets around $40,000 to $60,000 for a 30-second commercial. That number could at least triple on Leno's last night, according to insiders.
Leno's reign at host, which will come to an end after 17 years, could see a spike in the show's household ratings from an average 3 or 4 rating to a possible 12 or 14 rating. "I think it will do well," said Brad Adgate, senior vice president and corporate research director for Horizon Media. "I don't think however, it will match the May 1992 finale of his predecessor, Johnny Carson, for several reasons. It was far less competitive back then. And no offense to Leno--there was only one Johnny Carson."
By way of comparison, Johnny Carson's last night as host of "The Tonight Show" in May 22, 1992 grabbed a skyrocketing 28 rating and 50 million viewers; at best, media agency executives had predicted a 16 rating. Carson had been averaging a 5 rating up until that time, and around 10 million to 15 million viewers.
Advertisers paid around $150,000 for a 30-second announcement to get into "The Tonight Show" for the finale--a steal, according to media agency executives, considering the big 28 final household rating.
Pricing for Leno's last night depends on whether NBC makes it a big night event, which may include assorted prime-time special programming. Carson resisted such efforts, and instead just offered a somewhat quieter night with no guests, a monologue, clips of the show, and reflections by sidekick Ed McMahon and bandleader Doc Severinsen.
David Letterman also resisted a prime-time special with his departure in 1993 from NBC's "Late Night" show. Carson's last big night with guests was the night before his final appearance, which included Bette Midler and Robin Williams.
"As usual, there could be some curious viewers as with any finale," says Horizon's Adgate. "The guests are also a factor, and what Leno plans to do next could have an impact. I don't think NBC will have a problem selling it out."
Although the upfront market has come and gone--which in theory already means some advertisers have bought into that show--NBC can move out those advertisers by classifying the program, and that night, as a "special."
Unlike Carson's demands, Leno may do a number of prime-time special programs on the night, which will make that night a major revenue-generating event for NBC. Big programming packages may be attached to Leno's final show, as well as inventory in O'Brien's farewell "Late Night" show.
Typically, movie marketers, video game makers and other young-skewing advertisers buy late-night talk shows. Because May can be such a crucial marketing time for movie studios, savvy marketing executives may have already made arrangements to buy inventory during the upfront were Leno's final show to occur that week, according to one media executive.
NBC had previously said Leno would not longer be the host of "The Tonight Show," and that he would be stepping down some time in 2009 to make way for O'Brien. Leno's contract runs through September 2009.