ABC has sought as much as $1.82 million for a 30-second spot, according to people familiar with the situation, representing about a 7% increase over last year's top price of about $1.7 million. Just as that other big-audience live event, the Super Bowl, prices often vary based on where in the program the ad appears and the relationship each marketer has with the network.
ABC, the long-standing roost of the Academy Awards, said advertisers involved in the program this year include Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, American Express, Unilever's Dove Cream Body Wash and Bertolli Frozen Dinners, J.C. Penney, L'Oreal, Mars, McDonald's and MasterCard. General Motors Corp., the biggest advertiser of the Oscars' broadcast in each of the past 12 years, is also back. Last year's telecast, in which Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" won Best Picture, reached about 40.2 million viewers, according to Nielsen.
Proving power of broadcast
The Oscars are one of the biggest annual events on broadcast TV, and it's little surprise that blue-chip advertisers such as J.C. Penney or Coca-Cola often seek to use the show as a platform to launch new products or promote unique messages to the buying public. This year, however, the event takes on new meaning: showing what power broadcast TV has at a time when many advertisers are questioning its abilities. Until the writers strike was settled, there was great concern the Oscars could be scuttled, as the work stoppage ended the NBC's telecast of the Golden Globes and altered CBS's showing of the annual People's Choice Awards -- all fanning flames about whether network TV's place in the media landscape would be permanently diminished.
"There are some unique issues this year. There has been a lot to consider, even without the strike," said Ed Gentner, senior VP-group director at Publicis Groupe's MediaVest buying firm, which works for two Oscars advertisers, P&G and Coca-Cola.
Live events such as the Oscars and Super Bowl are gaining even more interest among marketers these days. With more viewers able to skip ads by using a digital video recorder, entertainment properties that spur consumers to watch commercials as they take place may give them a better chance of being seen and studied. So while Hollywood is grateful that its stars and directors will have a chance to have their moment in the spotlight, the marketers are equally relieved the show will go on.
Must shine in new ways
GM so values its Oscars partnership that it is the sole auto sponsor of ABC's broadcast. The automaker will provide 75 of its environmentally-friendly vehicles to shuttle celebs to the red carpet and other Oscar week events, including the GMC Yukon Hybrid, advertised during the Super Bowl, the FlexFuel E85 ethanol version of Yukon and the zero gas and zero-emissions Chevy Equinox Fuel Cell.
ABC has promoted the Oscars for weeks on its own air as if there was never a question that the event might run. "That's how you have to do it," said Mr. Gentner. "There's a lot of money invested in these shows, and from an advertising perspective, why pull out prematurely if you don't have to? Where are you going to put the money if you have a launch or if you want to be in a big event?"
In some ways, that's how advertisers view broadcast TV. In a sea of fast-emerging media that target niche audiences, broadcast networks are supposed to bring in the biggest audiences of all. If shows don't garner big numbers, or begin to lure fewer to the screen, it's cause for concern -- and not immediately obvious whether rival media such as cinema, out-of-home, cable and digital can be cobbled together to duplicate reach.
One media buyer suggested that advertisers can buy out a day on the big web portals -- Yahoo, MSN and AOL -- and achieve an equivalent reach, but that the cost of doing so can be prohibitive. With the upfront coming into view, the Oscars will have to shine in ways they haven't had to in the past.
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Contributing: Jean Halliday