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Morning Scramble: Ad Dollars Surged at ‘CBS This Morning’ in 2016

Variety logo Variety 3/22/2017 Brian Steinberg
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In TV’s scorched-earth morning-TV wars, Madison Avenue is placing more stock in broadcast TV’s third-place show – a signal of growing confidence in CBS’ “CBS This Morning.”

While advertisers continued in 2016 to commit more dollars to the show’s two main rivals – NBC’s “Today” and ABC’s “Good Morning America” – the ad-revenue take at the CBS show rose more on a percentage basis last year, according to data from Standard Media Index, a New York company that tracks advertising costs and expenditures.

The CBS A.M. show “has probably been under-prized” in recent times, owing to years of the network’s morning programs running in last place, said James Fennessy, chief executive of SMI, in an interview. “They are starting to do a good job of going out and winning some share from their pricier competitors.”

To be certain, NBC and ABC win considerably more money for their eggs-and-toast programs than CBS. According to SMI, NBC’s “Today” won ad revenue of $408 million in 2015, 9.6% more than the $314 million it captured in the prior year. ABC’s “Good Morning America,” meanwhile, saw ad revenue dip last year, down 2.41% to $314 million from $322 million, according to SMI.

But CBS’ surge, albeit off a lower base, is noticeable.  Ad revenue at the morning program, where Toyota has been known to sponsor the show’s 90-second “Eye Opener” video news capsule, rose nearly 15% in 2016, according to SMI, to $127 million from $111 million.  A person familiar with the matter estimates ad revenue for the program may have grown as much as 20%.

Madison Avenue appears encouraged by a recent trend. “CBS This Morning” has been gaining viewers, while its larger counterparts have seen some churn. Season to date as of March 17, “CBS This Morning” has seen a 2% increase in overall viewership, while “GMA’s” total audience has fallen 7% and “Today’s” is off 5%, according to Nielsen.

Advertisers and audiences seem more drawn to morning shows with a harder-news edge in these early days of the Trump administration, noted Fennessy. “There is strength in cable networks in this post-election cycle,” he noted. “Cable news has picked up – not just in the morning, but throughout the day, and there’s an enormous amount of ratings uplift and ad revenue to go along with that.”

Of the three broadcast programs, the CBS option is routinely positioned as focusing on harder news. The show has no resident meteorologist; focuses on business and markets stories more regularly; and rarely features a cooking segment. On Saturdays, however, there are musical performances – typically accompanied by a story about the performers.

CBS touts the show as “clearer” and “smarter” than its rivals, says Marty Daly, senior vice president and director of news and late night sales for CBS.

“Today” and “Good Morning America” are not to be dismissed. Both programs have in recent months streamlined their opening half hours to focus more intently on the news cycle. At “GMA,” co-anchor George Stephanopoulos, also chief anchor at ABC News,  is developing a greater reputation for pressing guests who come on to discuss the latest political developments.  And ABC has retooled the second hour of the show with a live audience. Meanwhile at “Today,” the return of co-anchor Savannah Guthrie from maternity leave lends stability to a program that has streamlined its opening presentation to focus on her, Matt Lauer and the news cycle with fewer distractions.

But the true appeal of the CBS program at present is that it’s significantly cheaper than its competitors, owing to its smaller viewership. Consider that the average price for a 30 second spot in “CBS This Morning” is a mere $17,500, according to SMI. In contrast, a 30-second spot in “Today” goes for around $50,000 and one in “GMA” costs around $40,000.

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