Leno, O'Brien Fight May Hurt NBC Advertisers

Jay Leno/Conan O'Brien/NBC

Could problems surrounding the Conan O'Brien/Jay Leno debacle spill over to NBC's advertisers? Media agency executives say some marketers, for example, made unique upfront deals in "The Jay Leno Show" -- many of which will have to be renegotiated.

Some TV national advertisers made media pacts for "Leno" similar to late-night ad deals when he hosted "The Tonight Show" -- not as prime-time advertising deals. All that will create some extra work.

"It's going to be a mess," says Gary Carr, senior vice president and executive director of national broadcast of TargetCast TCM.

Another media executive says NBC was firm in making all its deals the same way -- but that Leno's rates were "lower than prime time but higher than late night."

Typically, upfront prime-time advertisers get the right of first refusal when a new TV show in midseason replaces one that started in September. The difference here: NBC is essentially replacing a massive amount of gross rating points -- five time periods (or shows) at 10 p.m. --- all at the same time.

NBC's announcement last spring of its unusual effort to program a Monday-to-Friday night talk show in prime time left many TV advertisers undecided about how to buy the Leno show during upfront negotiations last summer. Was it a late-night show with lower CPM prices, akin to what Leno got while hosting "The Tonight Show"? Or was it a higher-priced prime-time show?

One media buyer said if some marketers bought in at lower, late-night CPM prices, they probably wouldn't get the option to transfer buys into higher-priced regular scripted and reality programming set to air on NBC at 10 p.m. after the Winter Olympic programming is concluded.

Those shows include new drama "Parenthood," new reality show "The Marriage Ref," returning shows, "Law & Order" and "Law & Order: SVU," and news show "Dateline."

"Obviously, if you're an advertiser in prime-time Leno, you're probably going to want to stay at 10 p.m., and if you're already in a show moving to 10 p.m., you're probably going to want to move with the show," says David Scardino, entertainment specialist for Santa Monica, Calif.-based media agency, RPA Inc.

"There's the rub," says Larry Novenstern, executive vice president and director of national electronic media for Optimedia International. "Your 14 units in Leno at a 1.5 rating guarantee may now be 11 units at a 2.1 rating guarantee."

Media executives have already pointed to Ford Motor Co. The carmaker has a big deal with Jay Leno for many high-profile branded entertainment placements in the show, as well as a media-buying schedule, and would need to renegotiate when Leno shifts to late night.

In-show branded entertainment is not valued the same way in prime time as it is in late night, according to media executives.

But advertisers transferring from a late-night show hosted by Conan O'Brien to one hosted by Jay Leno will be somewhat easier to match up. The Leno-hosted "Tonight Show" posted stronger 18-49 ratings than "O'Brien," although "O'Brien" had stronger young viewer rating results.

An NBC spokeswoman had no comment about any changing advertising deals on the network.

The silver lining for NBC is that the programming changes are expected to lift the network's ratings -- both late night and prime time. That will give the network the ability to better handle its underdelivery of ratings guarantees to advertisers, as well as possibly selling more time in the now strong scatter market.

Other media executives wonder what the cutting late-night barbs are doing to the NBC brand -- especially the comedy coming from "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien." O'Brien has relentlessly ribbed NBC executives, its programming, and the network's upcoming Winter Olympics games in Vancouver -- at unprecedented levels -- since the start of the controversy.

Says John Rash, senior vice president and director of media analysis for Minneapolis, Minn.-based Campbell Mithun: "The concern is for the network brand. It's not becoming of either individual or the network. It doesn't shine a positive light on either. But it doesn't violate any content standards."

3 comments about "Leno, O'Brien Fight May Hurt NBC Advertisers".
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  1. Jordan Kettner from Enquiro, January 16, 2010 at 2:35 a.m.

    I agree that it is going to be messy for a little while, but (in my humble opinion) I don't think any of the advertisers will be hurt. More people will be watching these shows with all of the publicity that they have been receiving lately.

    There is no such thing as bad publicity... most of the time...

  2. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, January 18, 2010 at 9:45 a.m.

    This silliness reminds me of the old Polish joke: Why is the suicide rate so low in Warsaw?

    It's hard to harm yourself jumping out of a basement window.

  3. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, January 18, 2010 at noon

    What a non-story. Advertisers will follow the ratings. Those who bought Conan cheap will be delighted with the higher ratings.

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