NBC: 90% of Super Bowl ads sold

Closes key sponsorships with Pixar, Fox

With three weeks to go before NBC kicks off Super Bowl XLIII, the network has thrown its two-minute offense into gear, closing two key studio sponsorships as part of a sustained push for movie dollars.

NBC on Friday said it had sold about 90% of its available inventory, leaving between eight and 10 of the 67 Super Bowl spots up for grabs, at a going rate of $3 million a pop. Media buyers polled said the number of remaining avails was closer to 10-12 spots.

Sources said NBC has picked up the major studios as a hedge against shriveling marketing budgets, taking its cues from the playbook Fox developed last year. (Super Bowl XLII played host to eight 30-second movie ads, a chunk of business that allowed Fox to be virtually sold out by November 2007.) Last week, NBC lined up Disney's Pixar, which will showcase its latest animation spectacle, "Up," and was dotting the i's with 20th Century Fox that is likely to involve a teaser for "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." Earlier deals were cut with Paramount, Universal, DreamWorks and Sony.

NBC now seems to have its ground game working again after sales efforts stalled out in the fall. While it had moved 85% of its avails by early September, the network kept getting stuffed at the line in the waning months of 2008 as the economy imploded and clients quailed about pricing. (NBC's rate card marks an 11% increase over the $2.7 million Fox charged last year.)

Even if NBC struggles to unload the last batch of spots, it likely will break Fox's record ad haul of $186.3 million, said Dean DeBiase, CEO of TNS Media Intelligence. "They still have some time on their hands," he said. "NBC could come away with more than $200 million."

How viewers actually react to that $200 million in ads is another story. During last year's game, Innerscope CEO Dr. Carl Marci measured biometric response to the action in 30 subjects as part of an experiment that suggests that consumers engage with TV on a preconscious level.

"The ads that got the most play in Monday's papers didn't necessarily have the greatest impact on people's emotional states," Marci said. "If you can tap into those deep emotional responses, you have a potential pull-through that can carry the consumer all the way to the point of purchase."

Added DeBiase: "Marketers should view the game as their own stimulus plan demonstrating how effective creative can pull them through a recessionary economy. A Super Bowl spot is an opportunity to ... create an ongoing conversation that extends far beyond the halo of the broadcast."