In Depth

ABC Seeks $1.6M to $1.7M for Oscars Ad Time -- Pricing Flat or Slightly Below That of Last Telecast

By Brian Steinberg
Advertising Age

ABC is seeking between $1.6 million and $1.7 million for a 30-second spot on its 2012 Oscars telecast, according to a person familiar with the tone of negotiations.

The figures show demand for the broadcast staying flat with -- or dipping slightly below -- that for the 2011 broadcast, for which the Walt Disney network sought around $1.7 million. Oscar ad prices swooned in 2009, when the recession, ratings performance and other factors sent the price down to about $1.3 million. While Oscar's standing in the ad community has improved since that time, the price of an ad in the broadcast has yet to regain its full luster -- in 2008, ads were selling for about $1.8 million for 30 seconds of ad time. The recent contretemps over replacing former event producer Brett Ratner and show host Eddie Murphy has little to do with the prices, which would have been established weeks ago.
The ad price suggests ratings for last year's event haven't thrown off potential sponsors. Approximately 37.9 million viewers tuned in to see "The King's Speech" win in the Best Picture category on ABC's 2011 broadcast of The Academy Awards, according to Nielsen. In 2010, however, approximately 41.7 million tuned in to see "The Hurt Locker" take the evening.

After seeing viewership dip as low as 32 million in 2008 -- down from 38.9 million the year before -- the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences tried in 2010 to turn things around by expanding the number of contenders for Best Picture and making room for more blockbusters in the process. As many as 10 different films could be nominated -- the first time in six decades that a field wider than five nominees was allowed. The gambit initially seemed to work.

While the Oscars are one of those big-ticket TV events that viewers tend to watch live -- thus commanding a higher price than run-of-the-mill boob-tube fare -- the event still isn't in the league of the Super Bowl. Record-setting viewership for that event has sent ad prices skyrocketing from between $2.5 million and $3 million for the 2010 broadcast on CBS to as much as $3.5 million on the coming telecast slated to air on NBC.

Media-buying executives suggested ABC has seemed willing to sell Oscars ad time for both more than $1.7 million and less than $1.6 million, though prices outside the range may come from calculations by sponsors who are crafting larger advertising packages with the network. ABC also controls the red-carpet coverage one hour before the start of the Oscars telecast, shutting out rivals like NBC Universal's E!, which offers strong coverage of much of the proceedings leading up to the event itself.

Viewership for the Oscars telecast ebbs and flows depending on the popularity of the slate of films nominated in the Best Picture category. When the top movies nominated are artier films aimed at older audiences, viewership more often than not tumbles. And when the nominees for best films are blockbusters tailored for the masses, the ratings go up. In 1998, for example, approximately 55 million viewers tuned in to see the crowd-pleasing "Titanic" win Best Picture. Yet in 2003, when "Chicago" won the honor, only 33 million watched.

An ABC spokeswoman said ad-sales executives from the network were not available for comment.