'SEINFELD,' SHRINKAGE AND THE RISING COST OF TV VIEWERS

Twenty years ago, 30 seconds of ad time during NBC’s “Seinfeld” was the most expensive real estate on TV. But it was still a steal compared to this year’s costliest programming, revealing just how much the splintering of TV’s audience is changing the math for marketers.

Advertisers paid an average of $575,000 per spot in the sendoff season of “Seinfeld” from 1997 through 1998, according to a contemporary Ad Age report. That’s a staggering $876,959 in 2017 dollars—topping everything then and now. This year’s most expensive show, “Sunday Night Football,” averaged just shy of $700,000 a throw for NBC in upfront negotiations

But the final season of “Seinfeld” also averaged 22.3 million viewers in advertisers’ coveted 18-to-49-year-old target, making it TV’s highest rated show. The cost per thousand impressions, or CPM in TV jargon, was $25.80 in 1997 dollars and $39.35 when inflation rates are factored in. 

That would be an enormous discount on the per-thousand cost of today’s “Sunday Night Football.” Through the first four weeks of the new NFL season, “Sunday Night Football” is the top-rated prime-time broadcast program, with an average of 9.28 million viewers 18 to 49. So the target-demo CPM for “SNF” is $75.38, a 92 percent premium over the inflation-adjusted cost of reaching 1,000 such viewers in the final season of “Seinfeld.”

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