The Story of the Most Expensive 30 Seconds in TV History. And Why It Matters to Advertisers on Podcasts.


On Sunday, February 7, 2021, a little after 7 p.m. on the East Coast and a little after 4 p.m. on the West, a man on an airplane kicks the seat of the passenger in front of him, spilling his coffee.

“I’m sorry for kicking your seat on purpose,” he says.

Then, for some strange reason, the man on the plane gives the passenger in front of him a bag of yellow M&M’s.

Over 96 million Americans watch this man on a plane with his bag of yellow M&M’s. More Americans watch his man than watch Joe Biden’s inauguration, the news coverage of the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest, and the season premiere of “The Masked Singer.” 

The man on the plane is an actor. And that actor appeared in a television commercial for M&M’s. And that commercial cost Mars, the makers of M&M’s, at least $5 million to broadcast the commercial on TV, making it the most expensive ad in the history of broadcasting. 

The ad was, rather mawkishly, about how chocolate brings people closer together. No one cared. (Amazon’s spot with Michael B. Jordan generated the most buzz that night.) But the reason it cost so much? Because of the very specific moment of time that it aired.

A moment of time called 1A.

And podcaster advertisers (you) should know about it.

The Most Expensive Television Advertising Slot

Mars aired its M&M’s ad during the commercial break that immediately follows kick-off during the TV broadcast of the Super Bowl. TV networks that carry this broadcast — the “carrier network” — call this very specific time interval “1A”.

And 1A is the most expensive, most profitable, and most valuable time slot in all media. 

If commercial breaks were real estate, 1A is Fifth Avenue, the most coveted patch in TV land, where brands pay the carrier network (CBS in 2021) huge bucks for mammoth exposure. These ads — a hyped-up hodgepodge of product promos, brand awareness videos, and public service announcements — travel through signals and cable wires to TV sets and mobile devices across the country, like water flows through pipes, direct to the corneas of consumers coast to coast. 

During this three- or four-minute juncture, up to 27 percent of the total U.S. population, depending on the year, have their TVs tuned into the carrier network. 

But there’s a reason M&M’s ad was the most expensive

Just like Fifth Avenue, where the most profitable properties populate the upper section of the thoroughfare, somewhere between 49th-60th Streets, one segment of 1A is the most lucrative of them all. 

The first commercial that airs during 1A is the most expensive advertising space on the planet. 

And it’s become somewhat of a cultural talking point. In the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, people on Twitter tried to predict the brand that would occupy this space, with guesses ranging from Budweiser to Burger King.

(Nobody guessed M&M’s.) 

But why 1A? And why the first segment of 1A? Why does M&M’s care so much? Again, because of the very, very, specific moment that it aired:

At the beginning.

Why is 1A So Important to TV Advertisers?

You know the first segment of 1A is the 30 seconds that directly follow kick-off. (Though, in recent years, the carrier network might broadcast a short trailer for an upcoming show in-between kick-off and 1A.) But did you know that more people are watching TV during this half-minute than any other time of the year?

These 30 seconds are when Americans are the most engaged during the Bowl: Kick-off’s just kicked off, and TV viewers are pumped. The start of 1A is the most lucrative time for brands to reach viewers. So they spend millions on creative advertising campaigns. 

As the 1A time slot progresses, viewers might visit the bathroom or walk to the kitchen and grab a beer from the fridge which involves taking their eyes off the TV screen. But this is less likely to happen at the beginning of 1A — the 30 seconds, or so, immediately after kick-off. (M&M’s 2021 commercial clocks in at 31 seconds, by the way.)

It doesn’t matter to advertisers if TVs tune into the carrier network that broadcasts the Bowl. What matters is that people are actively watching ads. Bathroom breaks and beer grabs are just as damaging to advertisers as switched-off TV sets. 

But viewers that engage with ads? That’s priceless. Nineteen percent of Americans say Super Bowl commercials make them aware of brands, so spending the big bucks clearly works. 

While carrier networks maintain astronomical viewership for the entirety of a Super Bowl broadcast, it’s those 30 seconds that matter the most to advertisers. Later, viewers might lose interest in a game and switch over. Or a game might overrun, and viewers might fall asleep. But the first half-minute after kick-off? Nothing comes close. It’s an incredibly effective advertising opportunity. 

The Effect of 1A on Media Advertising

Advertisers apply the 1A principle to all TV broadcasts:

The commercial break that follows the first segment of a TV show is the most expensive, profitable, and valuable.

Take an episode of a sitcom. Say “Friends.” The carrier network will slice a 22-minute episode into three chunks and fill the remaining 8 minutes of a 30-minute daypart with commercials. (The network’s primary revenue stream.) Most networks charge advertisers more money to air commercials during the ad break that follows the episode’s first segment and even more money to air commercials in the first segment of that first segment. 

Again, this is because viewership might fall as the episode of “Friends” progresses. Viewers might get bored with Ross chasing Rachel and Rachel chasing Ross — i.e. every episode — and switch over to Netflix. But at the end of the first chunk? The story arc has yet to be established, so anything could happen, and viewers are engaged.

There are rare occasions when networks might charge brands more money to air commercials during later segments of a broadcast. Season finales of scripted shows, for example, where viewers watch until the end, especially for the conclusion of an ongoing storyline. Or awards shows, where organizers might save the big gongs (or big-name performers) ’til the final chunk.

So What About the 1A Slot on Podcasts?

Advertisers apply the 1A principle to all media. Ever wondered why YouTubers plug products — free trials of Audible and VPNs — in the first couple of minutes? Because viewers haven’t got bored yet. Advertisers want to reach watchers before they hit the ‘Back’ button on their browsers. 

And so 1A matters to podcaster advertisers too. Whether it’s Spotify or Stitcher, listenership often falls as a podcast plays out. It’s normal, it has nothing to do with the podcaster’s content, and it happens to everyone. Yep, even Joe Rogan.  

If you advertise on podcasts — or are thinking about investing in podcast advertising — buying up slots during the first ad break (or even the pre-roll) could prove lucrative. Why? Because audience retention is almost always at its highest at the start.

Unlike the Super Bowl, advertising at the beginning of a podcast won’t cost you $5 million, but it will provide you with an incredible marketing opportunity. Try it and see.

Before You Go

Few people are aware of 1A and the impact it has on Super Bowl viewers. But this concept applies to all media advertising, including podcast ads, because commercials almost always work best near the beginning of a broadcast. The man on the plane with his bag of yellow M&M’s proves this. 

The main differences, then, between a Super Bowl ad and a podcast pre-roll are the prices you pay and the exposure your company receives. In other words, the path to your brand becoming a household name is determined by how large your marketing budget is and how well you know how to use it. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to choose between running a single Super Bowl ad or thousands of podcast pre-rolls; we would just do both. But money doesn’t grow on trees, and the Super Bowl only happens once a year. So, it’s essential that advertisers on podcasts are able to access clear and actionable data to optimize their campaigns and increase their return on investment (ROI), which prompts the question: What is the true 1A slot on podcasts?

There are two answers to consider: Either the 1A slot on podcasts is the most expensive slot or it’s the slot that generates the highest ROI (and sometimes it’s both). But notice that neither answer includes an element of time. That is, unlike Super Bowl ads, where the 1A slot is always located directly after kickoff when the most viewers are tuned in, advertising on podcasts has no such hard-and-fast rules.

It’s generally true that listenership falls off as a podcast progresses, but it’s also true that most listeners jump around and revisit episodes on an infrequent basis. Pinpointing precisely when most listeners are truly tuned in to a podcast requires a sophisticated approach to synthesizing several different statistics into actionable data. Knowing whether the host aligns with your brand, if their audience needs your product and whether they listen to and actively seek out the products the host advertises are all unique variables that impact your ROI.

Therefore, it’s critical to optimize your podcast advertising strategy so that your audience is truly tuned in.

Implement your optimal podcast advertising strategy with Backtracks.


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