What Factors Determine the Cost of a Commercial?

November 22, 2016 Advertising Questions

The fact that you’re reading this is a good indicator that you are at least entertaining the idea of using television as a medium for advertising your business. And you’re wise to do that. TV advertising is still extremely effective and offers a return on investment that stacks up well against any other channel.

tv commercial being photographed with man and woman actors

But many companies believe that the cost of creating a TV commercial is out of their budget. If, when they think of a TV ad, they are thinking of the type of ad that features Charlize Theron dropping from the ceiling on a ribbon of silk to hawk a women’s fragrance, then yes, this is out of most company budgets. But surprisingly, you can shoot a TV commercial that has good production quality for less than you think. Below, we’ve listed the main factors that go into the cost of commercial include the Production Time, Equipment, number of crew, length, location(s), and weather.

Production Time

As you may have guessed, the longer it takes to film a commercial, the more expensive it becomes. There are various factors that play a role in this.

Commercial Length

Consider the length of the commercial. A :60 second commercial will be more expensive than a :15 commercial because there will be more footage shot. If you plan on using more stills than live footage, the cost will be somewhat less.

Shots and Locations

The number of different shots and locations needed will also influence cost. If the commercial has many different shots, this means the crew must set up and take down equipment and lighting multiple times, which will lengthen the process. Different locations will extend the time factor as well, especially if there are travel costs, equipment rental costs, meals and lodging to deal with.


Weather may also play a role in the length of the production time. If you’re going to be shooting outside, rain, snow or other weather event can lengthen the amount of time it takes to shoot the commercial.

Number of Crew

Crew sizes vary depending on the complexity of the shoot, but at the very minimum there will be a director, a producer, a DP (Director of Photography), camera operator, and a production assistant. Each of these people play a vital role in getting your commercial shot. If you end up doing a larger shoot, additional camera operators will be needed as well as additional production assistants. Some shoots may also need make-up stylists and wardrobe personnel to boot.


Small shoots can get away with a simple setup including camera, tripod, simple lighting and lavalier mics. But if the commercial calls for movement or special angles, you may need Steadicams, dolly tracks, jib arms or other equipment. Also, the more equipment you have, the more crew you’ll end up needing to manage this equipment.

Media Costs

After you’ve spent money creating your television spot, you’ll need to spend more to get it in front of people. That means buying airtime. A range of factors goes into the cost of airing a commercial including the length of the spot, the reach (local, regional, or national), the times of the day and days of week that it airs, and the number of times you plan on running the spot.

If you’ve hired an agency to make these buys for you, make sure they have years of experience dealing with the local tv market (DMA) you’re in. These agencies will be able to negotiate much better rates than an outside agency.

The Bottom Line

As you can see, there are many variables to consider when coming up with a budget for your TV commercial. And the success of your spot will depend on how well the script is written, the quality of the production, and where and when it’s aired. But if you’ve got these bases covered, TV advertising can pay big dividends for your business.