‘Idol’ Without Cowell Still Got Hefty Ad Price Hikes

Media buyers capitulated in upfront negotiations and paid about $650,000 per 30 second commercial unit for next season

Despite their tough talk going into the recent upfronts to seek lower ad rates for next season's Simon Cowell-less "American Idol," the media buyers not only capitulated but actually paid price hikes.

As a result, Fox will most likely get about $650,000 per 30-second commercial unit next season on "Idol" at the high end, depending on the package bought.

Buyers told TheWrap that Fox salespeople during the negotiations did not address who might replace Cowell and buyers didn't seem to care. They just wanted to make sure their clients were in the show.

As one buyer said about 'Idol" upfront ad sales, "no one's going to have to take up a collection for Rupert Murdoch."

The rapid speed at which Fox sold its prime time inventory — the network was the first of the Big 4 to complete its upfront sales — has buyers still not sure the exact "Idol" unit rates they paid, however.

"Since 'Idol' would be prohibitively expensive to buy single units, you buy it as part of a package," one buyer told TheWrap. "And when you negotiate so quickly, you basically take last year's package, replicate it, and add on a total percentage of increase." Only when they get their actual plans back from Fox will buyers be able to see exactly how much the unit pricing was for a particular commercial on "Idol."

None of the media buyers TheWrap spoke with would talk on the record, and Fox officials would not comment.

But buyers cumulatively told TheWrap that even without Cowell, and even if "Idol" takes a huge ratings bounce downward next season, it will still more than likely be the highest rated among the advertiser-desired 18-49 demo, and one of the top three or four shows in total viewers.

While "Idol's" ratings this season, Cowell's last, were down about 10 percent among viewers 18-49 and viewers overall, the show still averaged about 22 million viewers and an 8.0 18-49 rating for its combined Tuesday and Wednesday night telecasts, easily making it the most watched show on TV for the season, according to Nielsen data.

In the 18-49 demo, the closest show to "Idol" was the CBS surprise reality hit, "Undercover Boss," which averaged a 6.1 18-49 rating for a limited run though, just a fraction of the episodes aired of "Idol." Next were CBS sitcoms "The Big Bang Theory" and "Two and a Half Men" at 5.3 and 4.9, respectively. Fox's "House" also averaged a 4.9, with ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" at 4.8 and ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" at 4.2.

Among viewers, closest to "Idol" was the CBS drama "NCIS," averaging 19.3, followed by "DWS," averaging 19.1.