Major TV advertisers are sticking by late night talk show host and comedian David Letterman after he tried to head off bad publicity from a failed extortion attempt by revealing that he had sex with female staffers.
Toyota Motor Corp.’s Lexus and DirecTV Group Inc. said they were staying put, emphasizing the “Late Show” audience over the host’s personal life.
Some media buyers pointed out that the sex, though with subordinates, appeared to be consensual and that he was forthright with his millions of viewers in a 10-minute monologue Thursday night.
Besides that, ratings for Thursday were 38 percent higher than the same night a week ago, The Nielsen Co. said.
“We haven’t seen any clients nor do we anticipate any clients looking to move inventory out of the show,” said Laura Caraccioli-Davis, an executive vice president at Starcom Entertainment. “We believe that he handled it with full transparency. Consumers are looking for that authenticity and honesty.”
Starcom clients Allstate Corp. and The Walt Disney Co. are among the top 20 advertisers on the program.
“We would not let Mr. Letterman’s personal life dictate our media buying decisions,” DirecTV said in a statement. “We advertise on the Letterman show based on its entertainment value and delivery of our core target.”
Lexus spokeswoman Nancy Hubbell also said the carmaker would continue buying time on the show for now.
“We’ll continue to monitor the situation but right now we don’t see a need to take action,” she said.
The program’s biggest advertiser from January through mid-September was health care giant Johnson & Johnson, followed by consumer products maker Procter & Gamble Co., drug maker Wyeth, and automaker Mazda Motor Corp.
Those four companies did not immediately respond to requests for comments Friday.
Advertisers spent $145.2 million to advertise on the show from January through June this year, according to TNS Media Intelligence. That’s 15 percent less than in the same period last year. Many advertisers have been pulling back on their spending amid the recession.
Ford Motor Co. said in a statement Friday that it foresees no changes with its communications plans.
Several analysts of CBS Corp. did not want to comment on the record about the incident or how it would impact the company.
But it’s unlikely that even the worst-case scenario — if the show were canceled or Letterman replaced — would have a large material impact on CBS’s network TV revenue because most of it comes in the prime-time hours between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.
CBS had $13.95 billion in revenue last year, about $9 billion from television.
CBS shares fell 8 cents, or less than 1 percent, to close at $11.49 on Friday, in a generally down market.
Letterman’s contract with CBS runs through next August. Negotiations are under way to continue that through 2012.
It appears the public largely sees him as a victim, although some castigated his having sex with a subordinate.
Letterman, 62, married his longtime girlfriend Regina Lasko in March. The couple have a son, Harry, who was born in November 2003.
Robert J. “Joe” Halderman, a producer for the true-crime show “48 Hours Mystery,” was arrested Thursday and indicted on one count of attempted first-degree grand larceny, punishable by five to 15 years in prison, District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said.
Halderman pleaded not guilty Friday and was released on bail.
CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, who is married to Julie Chen, host of CBS’ “The Early Show” and “Big Brother,” also offered words of support.
“We think it was appropriate for Dave to disclose the matter publicly as he has, and we are continuing to cooperate with authorities,” it said.