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Will Hollywood’s Super Bowl Ads Score, Or Be Sacked, As NFL Ratings Slide?

Deadline logo Deadline 1/27/2017 David Lieberman
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EXCLUSIVE: Forgive marketing execs at Hollywood studios and other companies if they feel more apprehensive than usual about the ad time they’re buying on this year’s Super Bowl.

They’ll spend more than ever for the matchup between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons that Fox will air on February 5. The network sold 30-second spots for an average of $5 million apiece, up from $4.8 million last year, Kantar Media estimates. Prices for individual commercials range from $4.5 million-to-$6 million, depending on when the spot runs.

That’s a financial touchdown for the network, and reflects how demand for time has grown for the nation’s most-watched event — mostly viewed live, which means there’s little ad zapping. A $5 million average is 30% higher than the price for a Super Bowl spot in 2012, and more than 50% higher than a decade ago.

But it’s a risky play for buyers: The Super Bowl follows a season when the average viewership per game was 8% lower than in 2015. It also was 6% lower than in 2014, deflating the argument that this year was an aberration as news channels featuring the latest about the unusual Presidential election drew many viewers who otherwise would have watched sports.

If history is a guide, then Hollywood will have a lot on the line. Last year studios collectively were the third-biggest advertisers (after auto makers and food and candy companies) spending $28.8 million to promote eight films, Kantar says.

Studios usually keep their plans close to the vest; this year is no different. But we hear that Disney will advertise two films (possibly the next installments of Guardians Of The Galaxy and Pirates of the Caribbean). Fox is expected to advertise the psychological thriller A Cure For Wellness and possibly one other film — either Logan starring Hugh Jackman as Wolverine or the next Alien.

Paramount will advertise (we think it will be Baywatch, although it could go with Transformers: The Last Knight). Universal also has committed to at least one spot during the game, with Sony in the pre-game show.

Warner Bros. is not in — but its promotional partners might be (as was the case last year with Turkish Airlines on Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice).

Others have hired stars to help sell their wares. Although companies may call a last-minute audible, viewers likely will see Adam Driver (Snickers), Kathy Bates (TurboTax), Helen Mirren (Budweiser), Jason Statham and Gal Gadot (Wix.com), Melissa McCarthy (Kia), John Malkovich (Squarespace), Justin Timberlake (Bai), and Jon Lovitz (Avocados from Mexico). They will also see a spot directed by Joel and Ethan Coen (Mercedes-Benz) with Peter Fonda and one narrated by Minnie Driver (Lexus).

Oh, and Lady Gaga will perform in the game’s biggest commercial: what’s being called the “Pepsi Zero Sugar Halftime Show.”

Will the Super Bowl attract enough eyeballs to justify the investments?

A lot depends on the game itself. If it’s exciting, then it could provide a bonanza for those advertising in the fourth quarter. If it’s a blowout, then it could be a big disappointment.

The championship games leading up to the Super Bowl did little to quiet advertiser concerns. Overall viewership was down 4% vs. similar games last year with only two of the 10 games attracting bigger audiences. The NFC matchup between the Green Bay Packers and the Falcons lured 46.3 million viewers, up 1.3% vs last year. But the AFC showdown between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Patriots drew 48.0 million, down 9.9%.

The volatility “may suggest ratings are near an inflection or peak,” Drexel Hamilton’s Tony Wible says.

The Super Bowl ad story will be more complicated to follow versus previous years: We’ll see whether Fox continues the trend of cluttering the game with commercials. Last year, about 49:35 minutes went to 96 spots, up from 48:05 for 82 spots in 2015 and 43:05 for 92 spots in 2007, Kantar says.

In addition to the TV spots, Fox is selling digital-only ads for its live stream of the game, and plans to dynamically insert local ads for its 170 affiliates.

In any case, Fox execs will have a lot of cash to count. CBS chief Les Moonves said last year’s Super Bowl “ended up being very profitable” for his company. It generated $369.6 million from ad sales during the game (with another $75.4 million in pre-and post-game shows), Kantar says, up from $345.4 million (plus $70.7 million pre-and post-game) for NBC in 2015.

Contributing: Anthony D’Alessandro

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