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Big Bucks for 'Oprah' Sendoff

Oprah Winfrey's last season in syndication will be an
expensive one for sponsors.

According to ad buyers, CBS Television Distribution (CTD)
has been seeking big price hikes in the upfront market for commercials in The Oprah Winfrey Show, and is looking
for "crazy numbers" for spots in her final episode in September 2011--several
times the $100,000 per 30 seconds some advertisers already pay.

Numbers ranging from $500,000 up to $1 million are being
bandied about on the advertising grapevine for spots on the final broadcast.

One buyer said that after feeling out the market, CTD
might have decided not to sell some of the commercials for the final week of Oprah during the upfront, and instead to
wait and watch demand and pricing grow as the daytime queen takes her victory

CTD says spots are moving quickly.

"Oprah's a legend of the likes we'll probably never see
again on television, so there's a real excitement and frenzy around The Oprah Winfrey Show's final season,"
said a CTD spokesperson. "Advertisers realize that this is their last chance to
be part of history, so ad time for the final season, final week and final
episode are selling at a rapid pace and for record dollars. Everyone wants
to jump on board for what will be a momentous TV milestone."  

CTD is justifying higher prices for Oprah by estimating that ratings will be up considerably from last
year for the farewell tour. It is also pushing for rate increases that are
bigger than the 9% other top syndicated properties have been commanding in the

Prices for commercials are based on the size of the
audience times a cost per thousand viewers (CPM) that varies from show to show
and from broadcast to cable to syndication.

It's not unusual for networks to seek premium prices by
turning the last episode of long-running, beloved shows into an event.

ABC reportedly sought between $850,000 and $950,000 for a
spot in the finale of Lost, a 400%
increase from its normal price. When Everybody Loves Raymond went off the air
in 2005, CBS sold spots for about $1.3 million. NBC put huge ticket prices on
commercials when two of its biggest hits signed off, getting $1.5 million to $2.3
million for spots in the last episode of 
Friends in 2004 and $1.4
million to $1.8 million for the 1998 Seinfeld

One senior buyer
didn't think that the price for the Oprah
finale should approach how much Lost
cost, mostly because spots on Lost
started out twice as expensive as Oprah's.
The buyer added that Oprah's ratings
were down 6% last year and that despite CBS's projections, it's not clear that
the final season will lure enough viewers to reverse the trend.

But Don Seaman, VP
and director of communication analysis at media buyer MPG, notes that "specials
in general are up. They will make this into a special event because it's Oprah.
And there are a limited amount of big deals in TV."

Seaman noted that
in her final week, Oprah's likely to have special guests that will attract
crowds, just as Johnny Carson did when he left The Tonight Show. More recently, Conan O'Brien's ratings jumped in
his last week as the host of Tonight.

"That last week [of
Oprah], I'm sure it's going to be big,"
he said.

Advertisers also
flock to the Oprah brand. Her endorsement is coveted and products shown on her
show-or given away to the audience, like the Pontiac G6 sedans in 2004-become
big sellers.

"That's Oprah's
seal of approval. I don't see a down side to that," Mr. Seaman said.