LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- With 10 best picture nominees set to be announced Jan. 25 for this year's Academy Awards, it's not just the movie studios vying for attention in a crowded race. There may be more nominees, but there's also more competition, and the Hollywood trades and national newspapers where studios place their "For Your Consideration" ads are clamoring to get their own piece of the softening market.
The awards-season ad market, valued in previous years at around $50 million in dedicated spending, has traditionally been a four or five-player network that studios bought to reach Academy voters. Trades like Variety and Hollywood Reporter would vie with national newspapers like The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and a few guild publications for ad pages touting the year's candidates for Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director and other categories.
But this year, a revamped Hollywood Reporter and first-time print editions of Hollywood blogs Deadline and TheWrap are competing more fiercely not just with the existing network but also with mainstream media like consumer magazines, entertainment blogs and prime-time TV. Executives estimated that Hollywood trade-ad pages for "consideration" ads increased by about 20 this year, though the ad pool that will likely finish closer to $45 million due to competitive pricing.
"If you look at the economy and the endemic studio space, which is putting out less product, it's pretty surprising there's more ad inventory," said Brian Gott, publisher of Variety.
For the studios, continuing to spend more money to reach Academy voters in trade media -- particularly print publications, which charge anywhere from $90,000 to $400,000 for premium packages -- has become increasingly inefficient for films that still need to put butts in seats at the theater.
"Every January we have a very legitimate argument about the need to continue to sell tickets and the need to continue to position your movie [to Academy voters] with a number of messages. It's about being smart with how you package things," said one studio marketing chief. "Even with newspaper ads, I'd much rather wait two weeks and have a stunt double-truck ad and be the only ad in the paper taking a double-truck than reach that 65-year-old Academy voter with a trade ad."
Leading Best Picture candidates such as Sony's "The Social Network," Paramount's "True Grit" and "The Fighter," Weinstein Co.'s "The King's Speech," Fox Searchlight's "Black Swan," Warner Bros.' "Inception" and Disney's "Toy Story 3" will each spend in the ballpark of $2 million to $5 million on awards-related ads, depending on where each film is in its release cycle. Films such as "Social Network," "Inception" and "Toy Story 3" will rely on their consumer campaigns to promote their DVD/Blu-Ray releases to do more heavy lifting.
For emerging online brands such as Mail Media Corp.'s Deadline, which this season published five print editions to target Academy voters, vying for a bigger piece of a smaller pie doesn't only extend to ad pages but to events and screenings as well. Deadline enlisted film critic Pete Hammond to lead its filmmaker series, while TheWrap introduced a one-time print edition called OscarWrap in December and expanded its screening series to include Q&As with Natalie Portman, Nicole Kidman and Hilary Swank.
Lynne Segall, VP-publisher of Deadline and MMC Entertainment, suggested the studios are putting a renewed focus on producers and filmmakers to leverage relationships with voters. "Studios will spend money where perhaps it isn't necessary to represent the filmmaker," she said. "The Academy Awards is a pedigree every studio wants to be known for. There's still a real luster. But I do think because these studios are owned by big corporations there's a thinking of, 'If I spend this much what's it going to get me?'"
Another reason for the decline in spending? Smaller, independent films that became critical darlings but lack the box-office grosses of big-studio peers rarely have extra marketing money to spare. Public relations has also created some efficiencies for studios. Whether it's the growing number of press junkets or the ongoing coverage from newspapers and magazines such as Entertainment Weekly, studios are less inclined to place buys in places where they know their nominees are being covered.
"If my nominee is a real contender, you can't ignore him. I'd rather take that money and buy a two-page ad in The Envelope or the Times so I'm reaching Academy voters but at the same time selling tickets to a movie," said the studio marketing chief.
For that reason, at least one publication is seeing an upside from the awards-marketing frenzy. John O' Loughlin, chief revenue officer and exec VP-advertising and marketing, Los Angeles Times Media Group, said the Times will finish this season with an increase in revenue thanks to the growth of brands such as its daily Calendar section and awards-targeted The Envelope. "Academy spending for us is up, and that's because of where we sit right now compared to where we were this time last year -- it's a wide-open race across all of the categories."