Survivor Goes Off The Island And Into The Outback

Will sponsors line up for the sequel series--at these rates?

Think you've seen enough already of Survivor, the CBS network megahit? By now, it seems, everyone is cashing in on the show, which was tuned in by nearly one of every two TV sets in use for the final episode on Aug. 23. Winner Richard Hatch has a week-long gig as host of a morning radio show. Four of the castaways have already taped a segment for Hollywood Squares. And 72-year-old former Navy SEAL Rudy Boesch has signed on for a guest appearance on the Navy-themed prime-time drama JAG.

In case you missed it, those shows are all broadcast or distributed by CBS. And the Tiffany Network is hardly one to look a gift hit in the mouth. It has only begun to milk its most popular show in years. After collecting an estimated $52 million in advertising for the 13-week run, CBS intends to set a viewer record for the second Survivor, set in the Australian outback and scheduled to begin airing after the Super Bowl on Jan. 28. That is, of course, if advertisers decide to join up again.

In mid-August, CBS floated its new price tag for the new series: an astounding $12 million per sponsor package, or triple what each of the initial show's nine sponsors paid. That will price the two ads that each sponsor will get at $600,000, according to Bill Croasdale, who heads the broadcast unit of Los Angeles-based media-buying company Initiative Media. Other perks include product-placement rights.

But even with the promise of product placement in the show--like the Bud Light that castaway Kelly Wiglesworth swigged on the first show--that may be too high a price. "It's worth it if [the show] can bring in those numbers again, and bring in those demographics," says Croasdale, "but sponsors tend to look at tripling of their rates and say, `Hey, what happened here?"'

CBS ad-sales folks are now making the case that the new Survivor could be just as big a hit. But they're also in unknown territory. Up against mostly summer reruns, the initial Survivor built an audience that averaged nearly 30 million viewers and by the finale drew 40 million. The follow-up will go head-to-head against original fare, including the traditional big events that networks stage for the February sweeps. And while the new edition will get a huge boost from following the CBS broadcast of the Super Bowl, it could fall off quickly after that.

"BIG NUMBER." CBS isn't talking about how much it could eventually rake in from the show. But after years of the network's defending its aging demographic--which meant slower growth in ad rates than rival networks with younger viewers--it's no surprise that CBS is now getting while the getting's good. Each of the initial Survivor episodes cost just under $1 million to make, well below the $1.3 million the networks are paying these days for other hour-long dramas. Meanwhile, CBS generated an estimated $30 million profit on the show, figures PaineWebber Inc. media analyst Christopher P. Dixon. And the network could get an added $50 million to $100 million more if Survivor's popularity bleeds through to other shows.

But the really big bucks will come from persuading media buyers to ante up for the next episodes. Andrew Donchin, director of national broadcasting for advertising agency Carat North America, bought a spot on the final Survivor for pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. He figured he would get 35% of the TV audience, well below its actual 45%. But Donchin won't likely bid on a sponsorship package--at least not at the $12 million range--if any of the initial nine sponsors bow out. "That's just an awfully big number for us," he says. One initial sponsor, General Motors Corp., which used Survivor to help launch its new sport-utility vehicle Aztek, is contemplating signing on again to promote its new Chevrolet Avalanche truck. Others, including the U.S. Army and Ericsson cell phones, are rumored to be crunching the numbers to see if paying $600,000 for commercials makes sense, even for one of the biggest hits in recent years. The immunity challenge for CBS: to ensure that many of them make it through that gauntlet.

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