ADVERTISING REVENUE: Soaps Clean Up in Nielsen's New Analysis of Primetime Moneymakers

Purell + BIG BANG THEORY = #1 Brand Integration
Here's more evidence that the soap opera, though rebranded as the serious and oh-so sophisticated-sounding "serial drama," remains the workhorse of the Television stable. That old chestnut about soaps being dead? Toss it aside, already! Character-based series with continuing storylines (which together with a smaller cohort of crime procedurals make up most of the evening dramas) continue to be, unambiguously, the biggest broadcast earners. In a nutshell? Soaps sell.

In a spanking new analysis of network TV's primetime moneymakers, Nielsen looked at viewership and advertising across the five traditional primetime genres. Their findings make good sense, especially in this Year of the Soap.

Analysis based on Broadcast and Cable. Primetime is defined as Monday–Saturday 8pm to 11pm and Sunday 7pm to 11pm.

1. The highest viewership: In the past three years, despite the proliferation of soft-scripted "reality" programming, drama viewership was still a solid winner, with about twice as big a viewership as for the second place category--which was sporting events, not reality shows. Dramas accounted for over 40% of viewership for the entire span analyzed; in 2009, 2010, and 2011; and the trend is upward. Sports had about a fifth of the viewership pie, with "reality" shows finally clocking in at 16%, sitcoms at 11% and news programs at 10%.

2. The real must-see TV: Time-shifted viewing is a good proxy for for how "unmissable" a program is, since viewers tend to DVR the shows they're most committed to (and most planful about) watching. Dramas accounted for the lion's share of this "timeshifted viewing," with 58% of the total. Sitcoms, the second largest piece of the pie, accounted for just 16%--a precipitous drop-off. Reality was at 14%, sports 8% and news only 4%. Interestingly, the analysis found that 42.9% of time-shifted primetime broadcast programming is played back the same day it was recorded, and 87.6%--so, almost all of it--is played back within three days. It seems we try to "catch up" with our preferred programming ASAP.

3. The biggest ad spend: More than a third of all primetime, network ad buys (35%) are for commercials airing during dramas. That's 20% more than for sports (in second place with 29%) and more than twice as much as for reality shows, which are in third place with 17% of ad buys. With only 17% of ad buys and 16% of viewership, where does reality TV get its swagger from? In 2011, it accounted for over half the overall number of product placements--that's 4,664 placements for 58% of the total, compared to drama's 29%. With 41% of the viewership but only 29% of the product placements, it's clear that slipping real brands into the script for the next struggling, evening soap opera could be a solid way to secure its future.

THE TAKE-AWAY
Certain programs seem to excel at successful placements. The Nielsen study zoomed in on the top five most successful branded integrations in two categories: "scripted" and "reality." All five of the best placements in the scripted category were from sitcoms, but that wasn't the most striking fact. The big take-away is that three of the five were from the same show, THE BIG BANG THEORY, although for three different products.

Likewise, three of the top five reality placements were from THE AMAZING RACE. It seems that there is room for growth, to say the least, from dramas (again, mostly soaps) that take advantage of branded integrations. Why should dramas not be able to dominate in the realm of product placement in the same way they lead the way for viewership and ad buys? Surely this marks an opportunity for some plucky soap opera producers, who aren't shy about guiding their writing teams toward leveraging the right brand, to capture a nice, tasty slice of the primetime revenue pie.

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