Is Modern Family Worth the $1.4 Million NBCUniversal Paid?

Modern Family

Are you a fan of ABC’s (NYSE:DIS) hit comedy series Modern Family? If you are, beginning September 24, you’ll be able to catch the show on not only ABC, but also NBCUniversal’s (NASDAQ:CMCSA) USA Network in an expensive, $1.4 million per episode gamble from NBCU’s head of cable advertising, Linda Yaccarino.

Yaccarino, who took over as NBCU’s head of cable advertising in 2011 after serving as Turner Entertainment’s (NYSE:TWX) top sales and marketing executive, has already been able to sell high on the potential of the series to ad buyers, but the question remains as to whether cable audiences will tune in enough to warrant the high price tag. Adweek reports that after intense negotiations, Yaccarino was able to obtain double-digit CPM increases over the slot’s previous occupant, NCIS.

CPM, which stands for cost-per-mile, is a commonly used measurement in advertising that compares the relative efficiency of different advertising opportunities through a benchmark of 1,000 viewer impressions. Yaccarino reportedly was able to leverage a higher price on the promise that the Modern Family acquisition would perform similarly to shows such as The Big Bang Theory or Family Guy. But it’s definitely a gamble for NBCU’s USA Network given that the network has long been a destination for crime dramas such as NCIS, which Modern Family replaced in its time slot.

Adweek reports that some observers have already been underwhelmed by the promotion for Modern Family, but one agency buyer explained that, “People will notice it’s on because it’s always going to be on.” But even if promotional materials for the show are lackluster at the moment, that doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way. NBCU has made Modern Family a “Gold Priority” — a label NBCU gives to a top-level concern across the entire portfolio for the company.

Alexandra Shapiro, executive vice president of marketing and digital for USA Network, explained that, “With an acquired series, you’re not driving to one specific night; we’re in what I like to call franchise-building mode.” She continued, “Marketing for this is not about Sept. 24. This is a quarter-long effort.” She also explained that promoting an acquired series can get tricky in the fall TV season when broadcast networks are all launching huge campaigns on brand new shows and returning series. October, not late September when Modern Family premieres on USA Network, will be when NBCU begins the main portion of the ad campaign, according to Shapiro.

According to Adweek, the USA promotional campaign for Modern Family will be similar to the advertising it has done for its original drama series. There will also be a social TV push, pop-up photo booths around major designated market areas, and a lottery to watch a table reading in Los Angeles. But according to one buyer, the biggest concern has to do with the show’s length.

“There are only four seasons in the can. They’re going to run through it in a couple of months. You’ll have run through almost the entire season in a week,” the ad-buyer told Adweek. But all in all, it doesn’t appear that Shapiro is nervous about the next several months.

“You can look at historical performance. It takes anywhere from two to three months for these shows to settle in,” she said. “You’re introducing new people to this franchise. There’s very little duplication between people who watch USA and people who watch this on broadcast.”

If that’s the case, NBCU’s USA Network could be looking at a very smart investment that has the chance to reach a whole new group of viewers tuning in — not just week after week, but day after day.

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