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CBS Super Bowl Inventory Check, Ad Controversy

The Super Bowl isn't just about football; it's the biggest advertising event of the year with 100 million viewers tuning in. Ad prices are watched as a key indicator of the health of the ad market.

CBS tells me that they are "virtually" sold out. They won't confirm if they have none, one, or two spots left, but they point out that if someone offers $4 million, they'll make room, or squeeze out someone who's paying $2.5 million

So how much are ads selling for this year?

TNS media intelligence reports that ad prices "reached $3 million in 2009." It's been widely reported that CBS ads are selling from between $2.5 million and $2.8 million). But CBS tells me it's sold ads for as much as $3.2 million, saying the network is confident that by three important metrics it's confident prices are higher than last year -- average per-spot cost, highest-priced spot, and total volume of dollars that day.

We'll be closely watching ad-pricing numbers as more estimates come in. It makes sense that the advertising environment would be a bit more upbeat than last year, when we were in the darkest days of the financial crisis. But marketers are still under pressure and looking for innovative ways to cut costs.

And it's not just about dollars and cents. The Super Bowl is also a forum for a controversial debate about social mores -- what is and what is not appropriate content for Super Bowl audiences. A dating site for gay men, ManCrunch.commade a bid for a spot during he CBS Super Bowl -- today saying it's been turned down. A "Man Crunch" spokesperson Dominic Friesen said CBS told them all the spots are sold out, even though Friesen believes more ad time is available.

Frisen's statement: "It's clearly a form of discrimination that we're getting the runaround, that we're not being told the truth. Quite frankly, there is a lot of ad space available -- a lot of the companies that typically advertise during the Super Bowl are not advertising this year."

But CBS revealed the response they gave to Man Crunch, which makes it pretty clear that the Web site didn't have the money to cover the cost of an ad. CBS wrote, "Our Sales department has had difficulty verifying your organization's credit status. Should you wish to explore future buys on the CBS Television Network, the credit issue will have to be clarified."

It seems like there's some question about the appropriateness of the ad, which shows two men making out, as the statement continues. "At that point, our Standards and Practices Department would be open to working with you on acceptable creative and appropriate daypart scheduling."

So if Man Crunch really is short on cash, then this is a pretty savvy move — create controversy that's worth millions of dollars of advertising. Perhaps it's even smarter than advertising in the Super Bowl itself!

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