Advertisers Rankled by Network Fees

Major advertiser and ad-agency associations are banding together to push ABC, CBS and NBC to reconsider $125 million per year in fees the networks charge them just for the privilege of buying time on their TV shows.

That’s according a policy paper obtained by B&C. The American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) plan to release the document at the ANA’s 2008 TV forum Feb. 28 in New York.

The groups represent at least hundreds of millions of dollars in network-TV spending. They include such big names as Procter & Gamble, Wal-Mart, Ford Motor and Kraft, which said they are willing to meet with the networks to let them defend the so-called integration fees if they can.

"In today’s environment, marketers are demanding accountability from their media investments and transparency in their relationships with media partners," the statement says. "CEOs, CFOs [chief financial officers] and procurement specialists are asking more questions than ever before about marketing expenditures and the impact on business results. Every dollar invested has to prove its worth. Given all this, it’s only natural that marketers are again questioning the network-integration fees charged by ABC, CBS and NBC."

The groups suggested a joint task force that would provide a forum for the networks to defend the practice. NBC, ABC and CBS declined to comment.

Advertisers said the fees are a byproduct of a bygone era, when someone actually had to physically insert ads into commercial breaks.

ANA executive vice president Bill Duggan likened it to the movie Broadcast News. "There’s a scene with someone running down a hallway to insert a tape in a machine," he said. "That’s kind of our understanding of why the so-called network-integration fees existed once upon a time and that there was some kind of manual-labor charge for physically inserting the commercial into the program."

The groups pointed out that newer networks like Fox and The CW do not charge the fees. Neither do the Television Bureau of Advertising’s 500 local TV-station members (including stations owned by ABC, CBS and NBC Universal) nor the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau’s 75 members.

A Fox source said that when the network launched, the decision was made not to charge the fees for competitive advantage because "in this day and age, there is no physical cost to integrate a commercial into the network feed."

He added that it’s just a way to get a little more money out of the media buy since it is not part of the negotiation for the spot price.

"It’s rather interesting," Duggan said, "that only the legacy networks that have been around since the 1950s charge for these fees. None of the cable networks charges them, none of the newer networks charges them, syndicators don’t charge them. None of the owned-and-operated stations of the major networks charges them. You can buy a spot on the 7 o’clock news on WNBC in New York and there is no integration fee, so why should there be an integration fee for a [NBC Nightly News] network spot at 6:30?"

No other media charges advertisers to physically place their schedules, the groups argued.

Duggan said some of the big-ticket advertisers on network TV can pay upward of $1 million in integration fees per year.

The fees vary by daypart, but they average about $470 per spot in primetime and evening news and about $230 per unit in daytime and late-night, the advertisers said, regardless of the length of the commercial. The AAAA and ANA are advising their members to raise the issue with the networks "at every opportunity."

The policy statement made their position clear: "Can network-integration fees be rationalized? If not, let’s make them go away and end this debate so advertisers, agencies, and networks can talk about other issues … like driving business results!"

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.