Biggest TV Shows Should Count Airings, Ad Metrics

If you want to know why longtime comedy shows like “Friends,” which ended original production back in 2004, are still popular in reruns, here’s a clue: Advertisers are still buying it.

How much? National TV reruns of “Friends” original episodes are the second-biggest TV show this year in terms of TV advertising impressions -- 56.6 billion from January 1 through December 6, according to list of the top 25 shows.

NFL programming was the runaway biggest U.S. TV programming -- more than double that of “Friends” -- at 138.6 billion. One big NFL telecast, the Super Bowl in early February helped that along. Total NFL programming impressions was 15% lower this year versus 2019.

By comparison, “Friends” delivered a 40% rise this year in ad impressions. The show runs on U.S. syndication -- on cable networks and well as TV stations through syndicated deals.



Two big cable networks -- ViacomCBS’ Nick at Nite and WarnerMedia’s TBS -- tend to air "Friends" multiple times a day, amounting to several hours in daytime periods on each network.

For example, one midweek daytime scheduling of the half-hour show on TBS airs 14 times between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.

This is in addition to “Friends” airing on Netflix in an ad-free environment. The popularity of the show is still a big deal. So much so, it has been a key priority for NBCU to reacquire it from Netflix so it can run on Peacock, its streaming platform, next month.

National TV advertising spend for “Friends” for 11 months of this year, pulled in $251.5 million. (The NFL comes to $5.6 billion in national TV advertising sales so far this year.)

Now, it isn’t just “Friends.” Some less suspected shows appeared in the list of 25 shows, also because of multiple airings: MTV’s “Ridiculousness” (7th place, 44.9 billion impressions), Food Network’s “Diner, Drive-Ins and Dives” (14th place, 31.6 billion); WarnerMedia’s “Two and a Half Men” (15th place, 29.8 billion); and Sony Pictures Television’s “The Price is Right” (16th place, 28.7 billion).

TV advertisers have a number of reasons for buying individual TV shows, especially those that offer decent viewership in a safe environment. Or programming that's part of bigger networks' media deal packages.

These results show what one individual show can mean percentage-wise to a network or national syndication company -- when it comes to viewership and advertisers.

Is all this a head-scratching situation -- especially with a TV industry growing with more content and more D2C platforms?

There were 4.9% more TV advertising impressions this year than a year ago -- 7.45 trillion, according to At the same time, there’s a downside. Factor in whatever wasteful impressions you can determine through frequency issues.

No matter. TV executives will continue to mine what works more efficiently for their platforms -- looking at what is expected to be a friendlier ad market in 2021 and beyond.

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