Mon, Jan 30, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Fox races to sell out Super Bowl ads

Bloomberg

With the Super Bowl just days away, Fox has yet to sell a handful of lucrative advertising spots for the year’s most-watched TV event, putting pressure on the broadcast network to finish before the clock runs out.

Fox has been seeking around US$5 million for 30 seconds of airtime, a new record. On Friday, the broadcaster said it still had more commercials left than is normal the week before the game. It is customary for networks to hold two or three spots to get top dollar for them, but Fox held more in hopes of cashing in on a marquee match-up.

The New England Patriots are one of the league’s most popular teams, but they face the Atlanta Falcons on Feb. 5 instead of the more widely followed Dallas Cowboys or Green Bay Packers, who were vanquished in the playoffs.

“We held a couple more than we thought in case it was Dallas or the Packers,” said Bruce Lefkowitz, who oversees Super Bowl advertising sales for Fox.

The market was also a bit slower than usual, Lefkowitz said, because some creative agencies are hesitant to face the pressure to deliver a successful ad in the era of social media scrutiny and commercial rankings.

Fox, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox Inc, expects to sell whatever inventory remains before the game. After all, this is the one time all year people actually want to watch the ads. To fill its remaining slots, Fox has started reaching out to companies in the home markets of the Falcons and the Patriots.

“We have a handful of spots left, and significantly more than a handful of interested parties,” Lefkowitz said.

SLOW MARKET

Buyers, sellers and marketers provide different explanations for why the market has been slow this year, from the defection of some blue-chip advertisers to questions surrounding the popularity of football and the cost of spots.

“They hit a wall at some point in the fourth quarter where they were stuck with a handful of units,” said Dave Campanelli, head of national broadcast at ad buyer Horizon Media. “I don’t know if Fox has a good reason for it.”

The cost of a Super Bowl ad has more than quadrupled since Fox aired its first Super Bowl in 1997. This year’s US$5 million price did not deter some advertisers, including Mars Inc, owner of Skittles and Snickers, and several automakers, from buying spots the first chance they got. Yet that price became an impediment after the upfront sales.

Super Bowl ad prices are negotiable, and brands pay different amounts based on the commercial time they buy and when the ads appear in the game.

The disappearance of a few regular advertisers did not help Fox this year. Doritos, a stalwart of the annual advertising derby, opted not to buy a spot this year, as did Toyota Motor Corp, Visa Inc, Yum Brands Inc’s Taco Bell and Nestle SA’s Butterfinger. Those defections forced the TV network to find new buyers.

About 111.9 million people tuned in to the Super Bowl last year, but that was down by 2.5 million from 2015. A sharp decline in viewership of professional football games earlier in the season has invited greater scrutiny of the business around the sport than ever before.

ANOMALOUS

TV network executives claim the smaller audience this season was an anomaly. Outsize interest in the presidential election and early injuries to star players damped enthusiasm early in the season, and viewership improved later.

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