Looking to buy a TV commercial in the last episodes of "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien"? You're out of luck.
"It's sold out," says one veteran media agency executive. An NBC spokeswoman had no comment.
O'Brien's ratings have been soaring over the last two weeks, due to his ongoing verbal jousting with NBC executives about a proposal to shift the show to 12:05 a.m. -- an idea he has rejected. The subject has dominated all his monologues.
Since that time, the show's 18-49 ratings have averaged a 1.9 -- around 50% above the 1.2 number he had been earning. All this has pushed competitor "Late Show with David Letterman" well down into second place, to around a 0.7 to a 0.9 rating among 18-49 viewers.
Letterman had been regularly beating O'Brien before the late-night controversy started.
Executives say pricing for late-night talk-show programming, including "The Tonight Show," has ranged from $40,000 to $45,000 for a 30-second commercial.
With exit negotiations nearly completed, it's almost assured that O'Brien will be leaving the show at the end of the week, with Jay Leno resuming his role as host of "The Tonight Show" after the Vancouver Olympics is completed.
Much of the hard-to-buy late-night program ad activity started up months ago -- before talk of the any programming changes began. Late-night inventory has been tight in "Tonight" as well as "Letterman" and other shows for months.
Some executives also suggested that O'Brien had some audience under-delivery viewership issues with advertisers to accommodate -- ratings promises made to marketers during the upfront. This took inventory out of the market that could have been sold at higher scatter pricing.