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Do Critics’ Choices Equal Advertising Dollars? Breaking down Emmy Nominated Shows

September 18th 2017

While all eyes were on the glitz and glam of the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards last night, we started thinking about the show in a different way – and wondered, do these critics’ choices equal advertising dollars? We decided to look at how Emmy nominated shows fared in terms of advertising cost, and try to answer that key question.

The answer in many cases is no, simply because there isn’t advertising on them. Much of what we, and the Television Academy, considers great content is often coming from premium cable channels or streaming services, and no longer on traditional networks these days. When you look at the list of winners – this becomes even more clear.

Of the shows nominated for the Emmy awards – across all categories included in Hollywood Reporter’s list (which includes some top creative Emmy categories), with each show only counted once regardless of number of categories it was nominated in – only 22% were from traditional Broadcast stations. 36% were from ad-support cable networks, 3% aired on PBS, and 38% aired on a premium cable network or streaming service.

For now, we’re going to skip over the broader conversation of the changing TV landscape, and the future of linear television. It’s a big topic and we have strong thoughts on it, but we’ll leave it for another post. Today, we’re talking about dollars. Reasoning would say that great content should also create big ad revenue. But, as we’ve seen with the Academy Awards, where many movies who win are not blockbusters, this is not always true.

So - let’s put that to the test with a few key shows.

Select Broadcast Shows:

  • This Is Us - there is no denying that This Is Us was a huge success in its first season. It was the highest rated new show in the 2016-2017 season, and saw 11 Emmy nomination in its freshman year. In terms of advertising revenue, the show garnered approximately $90.1M over the course of its first season, and had one of the highest average :30 second unit costs among broadcast dramas at around $261K. This one is definitely in the yes column.
  • Black-ish – for the second year in a row, Black-ish stars Tracee Ellis Ross and Anthony Anderson, were both nominated for Outstanding Actor/Actress in a Comedy Series, along with the show wide nomination of Outstanding Comedy Series. During the 2016 – 2017 season, of which recent Emmy nominations are based, the show saw an average :30 second ad go for approximately $145K. That’s compared to last year’s season, which was nominally higher at $150K.
  • Modern Family – to give some context to the above, let’s look at Modern Family, who not only runs the same night and network as Black-ish, but is also in the running for Outstanding Comedy Series. The show’s average :30 second unit went for approximately $186K in its 8th season (16-17). Both Modern Family and Black-ish are doing fine. But, when you compare both to The Big Bang Theory, which continues to sit atop not only comedy ratings lists but even rivals some NFL games, there is really is no comparison. The show comes in at $299K for an average :30 second spot during the most recent season. The Big Bang Theory, however, did not receive any major Emmy nominations this year. So, we must say that in the case of broadcast comedies, it seems the critics’ choices do not equal top advertising dollars this year.
  • Amazing Race – the Outstanding Reality-Competition category is one of the few categories that is made up of all linear TV shows, which makes it an interesting one to look at. The Amazing Race, specifically, has been nominated nearly every year it’s been in existence and has won 10 times. The show brought in around $108K for every average :30 second spot. This is quite similar to category rival American Ninja Warrior which saw an average unit cost for of around $110K, for the season it is nominated for. The Voice, however, does come in well ahead of both shows with an average spot registering at $200K. With The Voice also airing two new episodes a week, during most of its season, the revenue the show brings in is also much higher than any other show in the Reality-Competition category.

Select Ad-Supported Cable Shows:

  • Feud: Bette & Joan – this was one of the most anticipated limited series of the past year – it had great acting, directing and the glam of Hollywood. But, after debuting to strong ratings, the numbers slipped as the series continued. In terms of advertising, in this case, critics’ choices don’t equal advertising dollars. The show saw an average unit cost of $26K. While you certainly can’t compare any cable show to advertising costs on broadcast, we can compare it to The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story, which saw an average unit cost of $38K when it aired, with the final episodes bringing in close to $67K for an average spot.
  • Batter Call Saul – of the seven shows nominated for Outstanding Drama Series there are only two on linear TV, Better Call Saul and This Is Us. The Breaking Bad spinoff garnered on average $77K per :30 second spot, which, does put it toward the top of ad supported cable earnings.
  • Born This Way – this is a show I’ll put my personal stamp of approval on. If you haven’t watched it before, I recommend it. But, neither advertisers now the Television Academy care too much about what I think. So, let’s look at the numbers. During the season which the 2017 Emmy Awards cover, Born This Way saw an average :30 second spot on its show go for $10K. It’s difficult to compare this to other shows we’ve talked about, but it’s a mid-range price for A+E shows.
  • Genius – a scripted show that aired on National Geographic, is not always one you expect to end up as Emmy nominated, but Genius caught the attention of the Academy. The show registered the lowest average unit cost across all shows we’ve looked at in this article with $9K for an average spot.

Based on the shows analyzed, critically acclaimed does not always result in the highest advertising dollars. But, there are certainly areas in which the two overlap This Is Us, The Voice and Better Call Saul, are all at the top of their game. There is also a lot more analysis to be done on this topic to come to a conclusive answer - much more than our blog post can handle.

If you’re interested in more on how Emmy nominated shows are performing, or how advertising revenue across media is changing, get in touch. We’d love to take you through what Standard Media Index can do.

SMI Team

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