Oscar Prices on the Rise for First Time in Two Years

ABC Seeks $1.7M for 30-Second Spot, Up From $1.3M to $1.5M in 2010

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- After two years of reduced prices for commercials during its Academy Awards telecast, ABC wants to hike rates. The network is seeking around $1.7 million for a 30-second spot on the Feb. 27 show, according to a media-buying executive familiar with the situation.

That would be a gain over 2010 and 2009, when ABC got between $1.3 million and $1.5 million for commercials during the Oscars. It would not, however, match the mark set in 2008, when a 30-second spot during the Oscars commanded as much as $1.82 million.

ABC, part of the Walt Disney Co., has broadcast the Oscars since 1976, and the event is a significant contributor to the outlet's take in the upfront each year.

ABC may be perceiving renewed interest in the event thanks to the strong ratings performance in 2010. ABC's Oscars broadcast last year snared an average audience of 41.3 million viewers, the most since 2005's event -- in which "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" won the nod for Best Picture -- attracted 43.5 million, according to Nielsen.

After seeing viewership dip as low as 32 million in 2008, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences tried last year 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 seemed to work.

The Oscars and other big, live TV events are also increasingly attractive to advertisers as audiences continue to fragment around all kinds of new viewing opportunities on mobile devices and digital venues. The Oscars are typically the biggest ratings event on TV aside from the Super Bowl and the National Football League's NFC and AFC Championship games.

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 1997, 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.

Oscar ratings hit a new low in 2008, when just 32 million tuned in to see "No Country For Old Men" win the big prize, down from about 38.9 million the year before. Oscar ratings rebounded in 2009, when the event snared approximately 36.3 million viewers.

In addition to touting the broad viewership for the event, ABC has been touting digital-advertising extensions, including a redesigned Oscars.com website and a wider array of ad venues, according to a person familiar with the situation.

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