ABC's Oscar telecast shuts out dot.coms

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Having just grabbed big advertising dollars from next week's Super Bowl broadcast, ABC is focusing on TV's next-largest ratings event: the Academy Awards.

Advertisers will pay up to a 30% premium over last year's rates for a 30-second spot on "The 72nd Annual Academy Awards," according to media-buying executives. That translates to $1.3 million per spot. ABC, which has broadcast the event since 1976, has been sold out of ad inventory for months. Executives at the network declined comment.

"It's an event that does well, normally the second-highest-rated TV program of the year," said Bob Igiel, president, Media Edge's Broadcast Division, New York, whose client AT&T Corp. is in the broadcast.

DEARTH OF DOT-COMS

But unlike the Super Bowl, don't expect to see many Internet companies pitching their wares during the March 26 broadcast.

Virtually all the incumbent, traditional advertisers renew their commitments each year. In addition to AT&T, American Express Co.; General Motors Corp.; McDonald's Corp.; Merrill Lynch & Co.; Pepsi-Cola Co.; Revlon; and Sears, Roebuck & Co. are returning to this year's show. That leaves little room for the new dot-com advertisers, which grabbed business headlines by picking up spots on Super Bowl XXXIV.

"It's a premiere entertainment event; this is so desirable, there are lots of backup orders in case anyone wants to back out," Mr. Igiel said. For instance, iVillage.com is on the waiting list.

For a total TV media package, the Oscar broadcast also winds up being more expensive than the big bowl. While the Oscars' 30-second-spot price tag of $1.3 million is lower than the average $2.2 million per :30 on Super Bowl XXXIV, ABC requires each advertiser to buy multiple spots on the Academy Awards, media-buying executives said.

FEMALES FAVOR OSCAR

For the last two years, the Academy Awards audience has skewed 61% female and 39% male, with its major demographic being women 25 to 54. Internet sites' demos typically skew toward a younger, predominantly male audience, according to analysts.

That's not to say Internet companies have ruled out a marketing presence around the event. IAM.com, a new film and TV casting site for performers, will have a spot on ABC's New York and Los Angeles stations.

"There is all this hoopla over dot-coms and the Super Bowl," said Edward Menicheschi, chief marketing officer of IAM.com. "We started thinking, what is the Super Bowl of the entertainment industry? We decided it was the Academy Awards."

Feature film director Spike Lee is directing a 90-second spot for the dot-com through his production company, 40 Acres & a Mule. IAM.com's ad agency is Gardner Nelson Project, New York.

IAM.com began an online casting call last year to select actors for the commercial. In the spot, the chosen performers express their hopes and dreams.

HOLLYWOOD STOCK EXCHANGE

The Hollywood Stock Exchange (hsx.com), a game-based Web site that "trades" movies and actors like stocks and bonds, is also promoting itself during the Academy Awards. The site plans a live Webcast of its second annual Oscar night party. HSX also will promote the event with radio, print and online advertising from IllusionFusion, Los Angeles.

Last year's Academy Awards broadcast pulled in a 28.6 rating and a 46 share, down sharply from the 1998 broadcast, which came in at 34.9/55. But 1998 was the year of "Titanic," a critically acclaimed movie that also scored record numbers at the box office.

"If you have a big movie, the [TV] audience tends to be bigger," Mr. Igiel added.

This year, however, might be a repeat performance of last year's numbers. As with last year's Oscar winner, "Shakespeare in Love," many of this year's top-prize contenders-"American Beauty," "Angela's Ashes," "Magnolia" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley"-have not scored "Titanic" box office receipts.

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