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Time to Collect: A&E's Sopranos Bet Pays Off



Anthony Crupi

JANUARY 15, 2007 -

Mel Berning has made A&E’s ad sales partners an offer they can’t refuse.

In the 2006 upfront, A&E Television Networks’ executive vp of advertising sales drummed up 10 new clients that had never before done business with A&E on the strength of a single network acquisition: the HBO mob saga The Sopranos. On Jan. 10, as A&E took the wraps off of its $200 million investment, the show about the depressive Jersey mob boss outdelivered even the most bullish expectations.

The telecast, which ran from 9–11:11 p.m., averaged 3.86 million total viewers and delivered 1.68 million adults 18-49 and 1.79 million adults 25-54, according to Nielsen Media Research data. When the two episodes were measured separately, the first hour delivered 4.27 million total viewers, making it the most-watched premiere of an off-net series in cable history.

More importantly, Berning hit his numbers by a comfortable margin. “We sold the premiere at a pretty aggressive number in terms of both audience delivery and [cost per thousand], and we exceeded our guarantees by more than 10 percent,” he said.

In keeping with A&E’s mandate to present The Sopranos in a more theatrical context, the first hour was punctuated by just two commercial breaks, with the first—a theatrical-length trailer for Paramount’s Zodiac—appearing at the 42-minute mark. The second hour carried a comparatively standard four-pod spot load.

Interspersed throughout the night were three category exclusives (movies, pharmaceuticals and financial services) and an original content showcase sponsored by Lincoln Mercury. Berning said the network aims to balance the somewhat minimalist clutter approach of the first hour with the standard load of the second hour. “Going forward, we’ll be adding up to a third more spots to achieve a more equal distribution,” Berning said, adding that A&E has “60 to 70 advertisers who have already bought into The Sopranos.”

Berning also plans to cut the number of promo spots. More than a quarter of the 22.5 minutes of total ad time placed in the premiere were for A&E franchises like CSI: Miami and Dog the Bounty Hunter.

While hefty, A&E’s net promo load was not out of the ordinary, said Brad Adgate, senior vp and corporate research director, Horizon Media. “An event like this will bring in viewers that aren’t part of the network’s core audience,” Adgate said. “So if you’re pulling in new viewers, you want to get them to sample your other shows as well.”


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