Sources said Burnett's team, which collects the branded integration fees, landed some deals for January's "Celebrity Apprentice" at or near the $2 million-plus asking price--but those were with marketers linking with the show for the first time. Marketers and their agencies that have been involved in previous seasons were able to drive the price down to as low as the $1 million range, sources said.
Marketers gain the rights to use the show logo and other elements in off-air promotional opportunities with their deals. The "Celebrity Apprentice" premieres Thursday, Jan. 3 and features somewhat- to well-known personalities competing for the chance to give more than $1 million to various charities.
It's unclear whether NBC's deal with Burnett gives it any take from the integration payments. The network does have the right to approve how the integrations are executed on-air, a source said. If NBC is cut out of the integration-fee loop, the network can benefit from marketers looking to reinforce their integrations by buying spots during an episode.
Representatives for Burnett Productions and NBC declined comment, except to say that details on the sponsors will be released soon.
If General Motors had re-upped, for example, the carmaker likely would have received a discount, having used the show on multiple occasions to back its Pontiac and Chevy brands. But a GM representative wrote in an email that "while we valued the relationship, we have 'been there/done that' three times now."
Prices can also vary based on what specifics a marketer requests for its integration and other factors, including whether a marketer has been involved with another Burnett production, sources said.
The $2.5 million is a lower asking price than the $3 million or higher sought in previous "Apprentice" seasons--likely a reaction to declining ratings since the strong debut in spring of 2004. Still, Burnett's team has allowed for significant discounts before on the integrations. It made a deal in a previous season for $1 million when the show had buzz--about one-third of the asking price, a source said.
Garnering $2 million-plus this fall from some marketers is no small feat, considering that the ratings for "The Apprentice" have slid precipitously over its previous six seasons. Perhaps benefiting from "Friends" airing in the hour before it during its first season--and certainly from interest it generated on its own--the series posted a 10.1 in the 18-to-49 demo. By season four, its 18-to-49 ratings were half that; last spring, they dropped to a 3.1. The show appeared to be canceled then under previous NBC entertainment head Kevin Reilly, but his replacement gave it another go-round.
Marketers' interest this season could be driven by the opportunity to make their brands a central part of the show--a potential counterattack to DVR-enabled commercial-skipping. Also, experts in branded entertainment said the show's format provides a strong advertising platform--be it to help launch a product or promote an existing one. Contestants compete in business-world challenges involving a sponsor's brand, such as sales and product development, providing considerable exposure during the opening portion of an episode and sometimes extending to the final boardroom scene.
"It's still a compelling integration opportunity," said an executive who has worked with the Burnett team. "A good part of the episode is all about your brand or product or service." Indeed, even as ratings were plunging last spring, companies eagerly stated their enthusiasm about being involved. In a statement, the CEO of fast-food chain El Pollo Loco said the show "will ignite excitement in regions we are exploring as part of our national expansion."
Whether the celebrity twist will ignite excitement this time won't be known until the morning of Jan. 4, after the season premiere. Host Donald Trump said in a statement that it will be "one of the hottest shows on television ... a fantastic new season." The 14 celebrities, some of whom have been tabbed "B-list," include actor Stephen Baldwin, KISS frontman Gene Simmons and boxer Lennox Lewis. Omarosa, a controversial contestant on season one, returns.
Using lower-tier celebrities has worked well on ABC's hit "Dancing with the Stars" and VH1 series, although it hasn't always been a pathway to success. "The Apprentice" is for and about Donald Trump, whereas "Dancing with the Stars" has multiple entry points with multiple dancers. The judges become characters in addition to the stars, said John Rash, senior vice president at Campbell Mithun and a programming analyst. "Donald Trump went a long way during one season, but he's unlikely to be able to do it again."
The show could he helped if the writers' strike continues, since it could serve as fresh programming among a slew of repeats. It's scheduled for the Thursday at 9 p.m. time slot (where it had its heyday), but barring an early ratings rocket, it's likely to move when a strike ends--if not before.