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Pssst, want to buy a prime-time commercial? Here's the menu.

October 26, 2009 |  1:21 pm

Healthcare costs may be on the rise, but it's getting cheaper to advertise on medical dramas.

Every fall, Advertising Age tries to figure out how much a 30-second spot (what civilians call commercials) costs on every broadcast television prime-time show. It makes for fun reading, although even Advertising Age warns that the numbers should not be taken "as gospel."

GREY But the figures do provide a good barometer of the ad market and what shows are worth the most. For example, ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" is still the most expensive drama to buy a commercial on, but the cost fell to $240,462 this season from $326,685 last season. Fox's "House" is averaging about $184,000 this season, a big drop from last season's $260,179.

Of course, with the rare exception of the Super Bowl, the finale of "American Idol" and various award shows, most commercials are bought in bulk and not on an individual show-by-show basis.

So how does Ad Age determine the price of a commercial for a particular show? The publication's TV editor, Brian Steinberg, explained that major media buyers are surveyed about how they allocated their clients' commercial buys across a network's schedule, and from there a value for a particular spot can be determined.

Now, this survey is done based on spending before the season starts and before anyone knows what's going to be a hit or not. A spot on "Glee" costs less than several other new shows that are not as strong in key demographics. That will change in the scatter market, which is what the industry calls the week-to-week sale of advertising time.

The most expensive program to buy a spot on this fall is NBC's Sunday night football game, at a cost of almost $340,000. Even that is off almost $100,000 from last season.

And that will change once we hit January and Fox's "American Idol" comes back. Commercials for that hit are averaging between $360,000 and $490,000, depending on the episode. The closer to the finale you want, the more you have to spend.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: "Grey's Anatomy." Credit: Scott Garfield / ABC