Early Oscars Early Ad Sellout

Sep 22, 2003  •  Post A Comment

The earliest-ever Academy Awards presentation has led to the quickest-ever sellout of TV commercial time in the big annual event.

Owing to a strong upfront TV ad market, ABC has virtually sold out its commercial inventory in “The 76th Annual Academy Awards” some five months before the network’s live telecast of the Feb. 29 event.

ABC boosted the average 30-second commercial price for the event by 7 percent to $1.5 million from $1.4 million the year before, according to media buying executives. Those executives also say some individual deals have been inked at $1.35 million, depending on where in the program the commercial will air. Returning Oscar sponsors include General Motors, Anheuser-Busch, PepsiCo, McDonald’s Corp., AOL Time Warner, Home Depot, Eastman Kodak and JCPenney.

“We’re extremely pleased with the way Academy Award sales are progressing,” said Geri Wang, senior VP, prime-time sales, ABC Television Network, in a statement. ABC wouldn’t discuss commercial pricing.

As opposed to years past, ABC packaged much of the 2004 Oscar Awards inventory into advertisers’ upfront buys. ABC previously sold the Oscarcast separately following the upfront period, similar to the way networks sell the Super Bowl each year.

A strong TV advertising marketplace stemming from last June’s upfront market is one reason for the fast results.

“When you see a lot of money working in the upfront you start to get concerned that some other programs you need, that you normally wait for, might have additional pressures on them,” said John Muszynski, executive VP and chief broadcast investment officer for Starcom USA, Chicago. “During the upfront they don’t [have those pressures].”

Mr. Muszynski said he bought commercial time for a number of first-time advertisers whose identities he could not disclose.

“It was a jump ball. ABC said, `We have four units left; we’ve got six people looking to buy [them],”’ said one media-buying executive who, in a race to get one of the last spots, bought one commercial position outright, going straight to what is referred to as “order.” Typically, advertisers put a hold on TV time before ordering it.

Advertisers say that traditionally a hold has been virtually an order in terms of TV commercial buying. Upfront deals made in June are all holds, for example. They go to order in mid-August, right before the start of the season. Executives said ABC is sold out, with advertisers going straight to order or to hold.

The quick sellout goes hand in hand with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ decision to move up the event by a month to late February from its traditional late March date. Programming executives said the move was designed to steal back some thunder from the growing roster of televised award shows-including the Golden Globes, Directors Guild Awards and Writers Guild Awards-that have preceded the Oscarcast in recent years.

Last March the Oscars telecast posted its lowest ratings ever with a Nielsen Media Research 20.4 rating/32 share, pulling in the fewest households since 1969. Media programming experts said viewer apathy toward the event was attributable to anticipation of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

But even though the Oscars show ratings have been slipping in general over the years, media-buying executives still consider the program valuable-especially in that it heavily targets women. The show regularly records the second-highest rating for an individual program, after the Super Bowl.