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Cable Commercial Prices Rose Faster Than Broadcast during 2011's Last Three Quarters

Prices increases for primetime commercials on cable outpaced  those on the Big Four broadcast networks during the second, third and fourth quarter of 2011.

According to media agency TargetCast, using data from SQAD,  the average cost for a primetime spot on the Top 15 cable networks was $11,711, up 9%. ESPN was again No. 1 at $32,207, followed by USA at $18,821.

Among CBS, NBC, Fox and ABC, the price of an average 30-second spot rose 2% in the second quarter to $127,291, with a 4% rise to $82,951 in the following period. Pricing growth slowed in the fourth quarter to 2%, with spots averaging $116,122, according to the data from SQAD's NetCosts service, which compiles data from agency and client buying systems.

The agency says that with the last few quarters accounted for, prices have either risen or been flat for seven straight quarters. Prior to that, with the economy in a recession and cable attracting ad dollars away from the broadcast networks, prices had been declining.

"The robust demand for television, combined with a somewhat slower rating decline, drove unit prices and CPMs higher," said Gary Carr, senior vice president and executive director of national broadcast at TargetCast.

The prices the networks get for their ads reflects how well they do in attracting viewers, particularly adults 18 to 49 and adults 25 to 54.

In the second quarter, Fox, with American Idol climaxing, had the highest unit cost among the broadcasters, getting $229,130 per spot. ABC got $127,801, CBS got $115,905 and struggling NBC got just $86,454.

By comparison, the average unit cost for a cable network ranked in the top 15 among adults 25 to 54 in prime was $12,107, up15%. Fetching the highest prices were ESPN at $28,789 and TNT at $25,454.

Fox also had the highest average price in the third quarter, with spots selling for $125,758, followed by ABC at $82,946, CBS at $79,260 and NBC at $61,610.

For the fourth quarter, Fox averaged $179,514 per spot, followed by CBS at $116,517, ABC at 114,954 and NBC with $76,529.

In the fourth quarter, the cable average was up 7% to $13,748. ESPN, which airs NFL football, was tops at $59,008 per spot, followed by TBS at $19,542.