Oprah’s Goodbye Asking Seven Figures for 30-Second Spots

Syndicated finale fetching highest rates since "Everybody Loves Raymond" signed off

The going rate for a 30-second spot in the May 25 episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show is a cool $1 million, and if the price holds, it will mark the fourth-highest unit cost for a series finale in TV history.

Media buyers say the end of Oprah’s 25-year run should prove to be an indelible television event, thereby justifying at least some of that hefty price tag. Naturally, clients are betting that the closer will prove to be a ratings blockbuster, although the price is not being tied to any sort of traditional ratings guarantee.

No one’s truly interested in forking over a $145 CPM, which is about how the math works out if you weigh the unit price against Oprah’s year-ago average delivery of 7 million viewers per episode. Odds are, however, that the finale will draw at least double that amount in live viewing; time-shifted deliveries could bump the total up to as many as 25 million viewers.

In that scenario, the CPM would be a much more buyer-friendly $40.

The all-time record was set by NBC on May 4, 2006, when advertisers plunked down $2 million to help send off Friends after a 236-episode run. According to Nielsen, 52.5 million viewers watched the gang file out of Central Perk for the last time.

Like Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, the Friends mark will probably never be broken. CBS has come closest, charging $1.22 million per unit in the Everybody Loves Raymond series capper (May 16, 2005).

Before Friends established the high-water mark for a series finale, the previous record holder was Seinfeld. NBC’s asking rate for time in the May 14, 1998, finale was $1.42 million.

One other show came very close to reaching the seven-figure mark. When ABC’s Lost signed off for the last time on May 23, 2010, advertisers invested $900,000 for each :30. Given a delivery of 13.6 million viewers, the CPM worked out to around $105, per Kantar Media analysis.

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Like most established TV franchises, Oprah is down significantly from its heyday. But the show still stands well above anything else in talk, notching a 4.9 household rating and reaching as high as a 3.1 among women 25-54 (through March 20).

Oprah drew her biggest ratings in six years this January, when she was reunited with the half-sister she never knew existed. The episode delivered a 9.8 HH rating and 11.4 million viewers.

As Oprah turns her attention to her fledgling cable property, OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, the syndication market is likely to take a hit. In a new report, ZenithOptimedia said it anticipates an 8 percent decline in syndicated advertising in 2012, thanks in part to the Queen of Talk’s exit.

"Oprah's departure will further diminish the supply of top-tier, high-rated syndicated offerings,” the report noted. "No other syndicated talk show…has the same kind of impact."

A year after Oprah makes the jump to cable, syndication spending could fall to $2.4 billion.

Meanwhile, there is some good news on the OWN front, as the channel’s first-quarter ratings have shown stark improvement. In prime time, OWN grew its deliveries 21 percent to 309,000 total viewers, one-third of which were adults 25-54.

On a sequential basis, OWN saw its deliveries of women 25-54 soar 28 percent, with an average nightly draw of 101,000 versus 79,000 in the fourth quarter of 2010.