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Everybody Loves the Osbournes

MTV faces an unfamiliar dilemma when its smash hit The Osbournes returns for season two: Has it become too mainstream for its own good?

The debut season resonated with teens and, then, their parents. But, if the adults throng to the second season, younger viewers might flee: Teens want to keep MTV for themselves, and the Osbournes are everywhere. After all, at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, President Bush picked Ozzy out of the crowd to greet him.

How cool is that?

Well, maybe not very.

"When you're 18, something your parents like is uncool," MTV Entertainment President Brian Graden said recently.

MTV doesn't need The Osbournes
to be for everyone when it returns with 10 new episodes beginning this Tuesday at 10:30 p.m. ET.

"The older viewers are good because they give a nice, big number," said Graden. But, he added, "10 more hits like The Osbournes
and we'd be a network for a different demographic."

Such problems all networks should have. But MTV's cachet with advertisers is the net's ability to deliver the hard-to-reach 12-34-year-old crowd. That's the main reason that, in the last upfront market, MTV scored among the best cost-per-thousand (CPM) gains. While most of the cable industry was flat, MTV's CPMs rose about 10%.

Still, MTV is commanding broadcast-type pricing for The Osbournes. At the peak of season one, The Osbournes
was raking in $100,000 to $150,000 per 30-second unit, comparable to the average price for a prime time spot buy on broadcast.

This season, MTV has upped the price to around $200,000, according to industry sources. That buys an advertiser a spot in an episode's premiere and three repeats.

Said John Rash, senior vice president of broadcast negotiations for Minneapolis-based Campbell Mithun, "The Osbournes
is more of a known entity than they were a year ago."

But it's highly unlikely an advertiser would be able to buy just The Osbournes, industry executives say. More commonly, MTV will sell a run of schedule that includes at least one play in The Osbournes.

The Osbournes
averaged a 4.4 rating last spring and, at its peak, nabbed a stellar 5.9 rating. The second installment is expected to be as just as big—if not bigger. "Historically, the second season of a hit is even stronger," said Brad Adgate, research chief for media buyer Horizon Media, pointing to CBS's success with Survivor. "The buzz has been tremendous, and they are getting a lot of publicity."

Still, none of this matters for some advertisers. "If you're not really targeted to young adults, it's very inefficient to buy MTV even though [The Osbournes] delivers a nice 18-49 number," said Chris Geraci, director national TV for OMD USA.

Increased ad dollars could help MTV—with its genius for developing cheap hits—pay down The Osbournes' relatively hefty tab.

Because now MTV is paying big time for the dysfunctional dynamos. Under their new 20-episode deal, the Osbourne clan will make about $5 million for the U.S. rights. Throw in their international distribution, merchandising and DVD sales, and that figure could reap the family as much as $20 million.

MTV is busy shooting the 20-episode order now, even though only 10 air this fall. The main storylines are well-known: Sharon Osbourne's treatment for colon cancer and Ozzy's trying to cope, daughter Kelly's budding singing career. This season, as the press has reported endlessly, teenage family friend Robert Marcato moves in.

But MTV promises surprises. "What viewers miss is the behind-the-scenes, how these events are impacting the family," said Rod Aissa, MTV's vice president for Talent Development, who has worked with the family since the show's beginning.

As to be expected in the first episodes previewed, there's some mugging for the camera. But, as Aissa said, it's the family's daily routine that makes The Osbournes
a reality sitcom. Like Ozzy and Sharon sitting on their bathroom floor, sifting through jewelry to wear to the White House correspondents' dinner. Or Kelly, riding home from the MTV Movie Awards with her brother Jack, chiding him for being excited that McDonald's is bringing back the McRibs sandwich.

Despite the fame, said Aissa, "who they are as a family and how they interact is exactly the same."