Ad rates coming in low for “Leno”

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WSJ reports fans of Jay Leno may have high expectations for the comedian’s new show beginning Monday night. But in the weeks leading up to NBC’s launch of “The Jay Leno Show,” advertisers are buying spots for about half what they’d spend per commercial in new episodes of dramas at the same time of night, media agency execs told the paper. NBC says the Leno show can turn a profit at those reduced levels because it is cheap to produce. NBC will spend some $100 million on Leno’s show for a year, say people close to the network. That’s in contrast to about $300 million to fill that time slot with dramas and reruns.


Tonight at 10 p.m., Leno will start his signature monologue on a new show after 17 years hosting NBC’s late-night series “The Tonight Show,” which he handed over to Conan O’Brien in June.

Running a nightly comedy-variety show in the 10 p.m. slot marks a big shift for a major broadcast network and reflects the troubles facing TV broadcasters and NBC in particular. As people increasingly flip to cable shows and watch more series on their DVRs, the biggest broadcast networks are losing viewers. The number of people watching shows on weeknights between 10 and 11 p.m. on NBC, CBS Corp.’s CBS and ABC has declined 23% from three TV seasons ago, to a combined 23.8 million on average this season through Aug. 30, according to Nielsen.

But Leno’s show is likely to attract a smaller audience — about a third fewer viewers between the ages of 18 and 49 — than the network has garnered for the same time slot over the last year, NBC execs told WSJ.

That means lower ad rates. Commercials for “The Jay Leno Show” are running between $55,000 and $75,000 for 30 seconds, according to advertising industry executives. By contrast, NBC reaped an average of $137,000 for 30-second commercials in “Law & Order: SVU” in the 10 o’clock hour last October, according to Nielsen estimates.

“We were very conservative with what we paid for” Mr. Leno’s show, said Andy Donchin, director of media investments at Carat. Donchin said he thinks Mr. Leno’s show will succeed, but “we don’t think it’s going to do blockbuster ratings.”

NBC execs acknowledge Leno’s show will draw lower rates per commercial than new episodes of popular dramas. But they say Mr. Leno’s commercial prices will compare more favorably to the rates those shows receive during the periods of the year when they are in reruns.

“Comparing Jay Leno to a 22-week scripted show is not an apples-to-apples comparison,” said Mike Pilot, president of sales and marketing at NBC Universal. Leno’s show will air nearly year-round.

To assuage local-TV stations, the Leno program will include comedy bits at the end of the show to keep people tuned in for the 11 p.m. local news.