A Tribal Thursday

Increased May sweeps competition took a little bite out of Survivor: The Australian Outback's finale last week, but the CBS reality series managed to produce big ratings, and advertisers are already lining up for the next edition, which will take place in Africa.

Survivor: The Australian Outback's two-hour finale Thursday attracted more than 36 million viewers, down more than 15 million from the show's final episode the first time around. Last summer's finale also had stronger demographic ratings across the board, according to Nielsen Media Research figures.

Last week's finale averaged a 15.9 rating/39 share in adults 18-49 and a 20.1/31 in households. The Aug. 23 finale of the original Survivor posted much higher numbers—a 28.6/45 in adults 18-49 and a 22.8/45 in households.

But the ratings decline didn't seem to lessen advertiser interest in the third installment, taking place in Kenya and airing on CBS this fall. They believe that CBS will be able to increase its position on Madison Ave. during the upcoming upfront buying season.

Paul Schulman, media buyer for Schulman/Advanswers NY, says the first edition had a "free ride" last summer and that last week's ratings reflected much stiffer competition.

"The first time people got a tremendous deal on it, the second time they sort of tripled the price based on what happened with the ratings, and I think that people will be anxious to be in it again despite decreased ratings," says Schulman. "This is a show that is a huge power in network TV. To get a 31 household share today is a huge number; it's big, and it's against NBC's biggest night."

John Lazarus, senior vice president/director of national broadcast at media buyer TN Media, which represented Survivor
sponsor Dr. Scholl's, says Survivor: The Australian Outback actually over-delivered TN Media's estimates by a substantial margin.

Except for the finale, the second batch of Survivor episodes topped the first by nearly one million viewers per week—29.2 million viewers versus 28.2 million last summer … except for the finale. The Australian version averaged 29.2 million viewers versus the original's 28.2 million. The one-hour reunion show hosted by Bryant Gumbel at 10 p.m. last Thursday averaged 28.6 million viewers and beat NBC's ER by seven million viewers—the first time an original episode of ER has not won its time period since 1994.

In the process, the median age of CBS' viewers has dropped from 52.4 to 50.8, and that's not including the finale numbers.

Advertisers paid up to $800,000 per spot to be in the two-hour finale, and full-season sponsors such as Dr. Scholl's and Reebok paid up to $12 million for comprehensive promotional packages that included product placement and ads during regular season and the finale.

The full-season sponsors paid $300,000-$350,000 per 30-second spot for non-finale episodes, according to sources.

"CBS, knowing they over-delivered, will probably bump up the price a bit for full-season sponsors in the fall," says Lazarus. "People will have to evaluate whether Survivor 3 has enough holding power to warrant that price. Right now, the numbers ought to say it does. It over-delivered, and that's all you can ask a show to do."