NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- CBS (CBS) and Time Warner's (TWX) Turner Broadcasting have nearly sold out of the available TV and digital advertisements for their joint March Madness coverage, according to people with knowledge of the ad sales, giving the two media companies the leverage to charge what negotiators say is one of their biggest annual boosts in years.
The two companies, which share revenue for the March Madness tournament, sold 30-second spots for the TV broadcast of the April 6 men's championship game for as much as $1.6 million, according to negotiators involved in the talks. Last year, final game commercials averaged $1.5 million for a 30-second spot, a 5% increase over 2013, according to advertising data firm Kantar Media.
"March Madness is one of the great annual events, and it doesn't lend itself to video on demand or binge viewing," says Ed Dees, a TV sports consultant and former president of NBA Television and New Ventures. "There are very few events -- Super Bowl, the Academy Awards -- where people need to see it live."
The final game's $1.5 million price tag for a spot last year trailed only the $4.2 million spent in the same period on a 30-second commercial for the Super Bowl and nearly $1.8 million for the National Football League's conference championships. Sponsors spent $1.78 million for a 30-second spot on last year's Academy Awards telecast, according to Kantar.
Overall, however, growth in TV ad spending on March Madness has slowed in recent years, as more advertisers have started to put money into the game's digital distribution, also shared by the two media giants. Last year, the three-week March Madness tournament generated $1.13 billion, a 1.5% hike from the year before, said Kantar.
CBS this year will air the final and 21 other games, according to the two media companies, while Turner will telecast 49 contests that include the Final Four and Elite 8. Most of the telecasts won't break even, says Dees, but instead will "build interest that translates into a bigger audience for the Final Four and title games."
The games will be especially crucial for Turner's TruTV channel, which was given a programming makeover last year to focus less on reality shows and more on comedies, game shows and sporting events, said Scott Robson, an analyst with cable TV consultant SNL Kagan.
TruTV has been able to gradually increase the fee it charges cable and satellite operators to carry the tournament since it began airing March Madness in 2011, Robson says, hiking it from 11 cents a month per subscriber to 18 cents as of 2014.
The channel's ratings have struggled, however, since it was rebranded from Court TV in 2008. In the last year, TruTV's ratings have declined by 38.6%, according to Nielsen's January report, the second-largest decline in ratings among cable TV channels.
CBS and Time Warner spokespeople had no comment.
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