TV network overall prime-time unit costs are flat to slightly down versus a year ago -- part of an overall downward trend resulting from declining ratings.
Media agency TargetCast tcm says the four networks' average cost for a 30-second commercial was $80,495 in the third quarter -- down 2% versus the year before. The second-quarter average was $123,881 -- virtually flat versus the previous 2009 second-quarter period.
But it had major help to maintain this strength of flat pricing.
"The robust demand for television combined with limited available inventory, stable ratings and a very soft market a year earlier drove unit prices and CPMs higher in the second quarter," stated Gary Carr, senior vice president, executive director of national broadcast at TargetCast tcm.
However, the longer-term picture shows a continuing drop. Carr adds: "Network unit costs overall have been experiencing significant declines in recent years due to declining ratings and the growth of cable."
Once again, Fox was the leader -- with the highest unit cost of $211,732 in the second quarter of 2010. ABC was next at $125,940, followed by CBS in third place at $110,794 and NBC in fourth place at $81,784.
In the slower summer third quarter, Fox was again tops with $104,842. The other three networks' unit costs ranged from $70,000 to $79,000.
Ad-supported cable networks, however, continue to show higher results. TargetCast says the average unit cost of the top 15 rated cable networks in prime time among adults 25-54 was up 9.6% in the second quarter and 7.1% in the third quarter.
The best cable network was ESPN --- topping the list at $27,000 in the second quarter and $30,000 in the third quarter. TNT was next, with a second-quarter price of $23,000 and a third quarter number of $18,000.
One bit of bad news for cable: TargetCast says older, more established cable networks are starting to feel the pinch of lower ratings -- especially among adults 25-54. It says cable networks were down 4% in both the second and third quarters. However, because cable maintains a strong price efficiency to broadcast, more ad money was directed their way anyway.