Oscar Telecast Is Losing Its Shine

Mar 13, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The disappointing ratings performance of ABC’s 2006 Academy Awards telecast provided yet more evidence that in today’s competitive television environment, even big-event programming isn’t a sure bet for the broadcast networks anymore.

While still ranking above the Oscarcast’s record low ratings of 2003, the March 5 broadcast of “The 78th Annual Academy Awards” marked the telecast’s second-lowest performance in the adults 18 to 49 demo since ABC began carrying the ceremony in 1992. In the current season-to-date rankings, it falls behind the Super Bowl, a post-Super Bowl episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” and two airings of Fox’s reality series “American Idol.”

And for the second year in a row the Oscars telecast has seen declines in nearly all major demos, including an 8 percent drop in adults 18 to 49. This year’s Oscarcast scored a 13.9 in the demo, a number that includes live-plus-same-day viewing, according to Nielsen Media Research. The Academy Awards holds a second-place status among all telecasts in total viewers for the current season (38.9 million) and scored a 23.1 household rating.

Despite the declines, having the Oscars in its programming arsenal is still of great value to ABC, said Brad Adgate, senior VP of research for Horizon Media.

“You can pretty much count on one hand what shows do a 20 [household] rating,” Mr. Adgate said, noting that in terms of reaching women, no special event can deliver like the Academy Awards.

“Most are postseason sports,” he said. “The Oscars is the one blockbuster event that generates more female viewers than male viewers.”

The year-to-year drop in ratings is not a huge factor in determining whether a major advertiser like General Motors is going to sign up for the Oscars telecast, said Ryndee Carney, the company’s manager of advertising and marketing communications.

“There are years where more people tune in, and years where fewer people tune in,” Ms. Carney said. “That’s the nature of the beast. In these days of fragmentation, where it’s so hard to reach so many people simultaneously, it’s still something we find a lot of value in.”

For GM, an Oscars sponsor for the past 17 years, the telecast is a unique opportunity that goes far beyond a few pricey 30-second spots, Ms. Carney said. “We kind of look at it as one of our premier media properties, along with the Olympics, the Grammys, the NCAA Final Four,” she said. “We hold it in that esteem.”

Advertisers paid an average of $1.7 million per 30-second spot for the Oscars telecast, according to Advertising Age, a 6 percent increase from last year. ABC announced it had sold out the show Feb. 23, two weeks before the telecast. Besides GM, veteran advertisers including American Express, MasterCard, JCPenney and McDonald’s were back for another year, with newcomers Coca-Cola and Miller Brewing replacing category competitors Pepsi and Anheuser-Busch, respectively.

ABC, which has aired the Oscars for more than 15 years, signed a contract with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences last year to telecast the group’s Academy Awards ceremonies through 2014. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.