For its March 26 airing of "The 72nd Academy Awards" ABC will pull in a record $62.4 million for the three-hour-plus broadcast alone. Advertising executives said the network is inking deals as high as $1.3 million per 30-second spot in the awards show, which will have 48 commercial positions.
Add to that commercials priced at around $465,000 per :30 in ABC's hourlong "Barbara Walters Special Academy Awards Edition" airing the night of the Oscars and a special "The Official Oscar Preview Show," hosted by Meredith Vieira that has advertisers ponying up $375,000 to $425,000 for a 30-second commercial.
Surprisingly, ABC has sold only one spot so far to an Internet company -- something that was de rigueur for dot-coms during TV's other big-rated special event this year, the Super Bowl, which also aired on ABC. At press time, a number of Internet companies were, however, mulling offers, including Yahoo!
So far, the broadcast's only other dot-com commercial is coming from a traditional Oscar advertiser, General Motors Corp. The commercial is for Gmbuypower.com, an Internet service that allows consumers to shop for a GM car online in the same manner as in a showroom.
ABC, however, hasn't overlooked the dot-com category. It's employed a different sales strategy this year in actively pushing advertising on the official Oscar Web site (www.oscar.com), which is jointly operated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and ABC. According to one media executive, ABC wanted late-buying advertisers to purchase $100,000 in Internet advertising on the Web site in addition to anteing up one :30 at $1.3 million. ABC wouldn't comment.
LOW ADVERTISER TURNOVER
But normally there aren't many late buyers, since many advertisers have long-standing incumbencies with ABC, which has broadcast the Academy Awards since the late 1970s. Its sponsor line-up rarely changes much.
This year there was more churn than usual -- specifically because Revlon, which has used the program as a major launching pad for its beauty products, cut its advertising down from 10 spots to two (AA, Feb. 28). At press time, AT&T Corp. also was seeking to sell back one of its two commercial units.
Longtime Oscar advertisers have called the Academy Awards the "Super Bowl for Women." Just as the Super Bowl grabs a big male audience, the Academy Awards have consistently pulled in a large female audience. For the last several years, the Oscar audience has been made up of 61% female viewers vs. 39% males. That's somewhat higher than the audience breakdown for regularly scheduled prime-time shows.
The real bonus for advertisers in the Oscars is the broadcast's surprising consistency in the wake of 15 years of network audience ratings erosion. For instance, last year the Academy Awards broadcast earned a Nielsen Media Research rating of 28.6 and a 46 share. While this TV rating was lower than recent years (see chart, Page 40), the audience for the broadcast has remained fairly consistent over the last decade.
"The Oscars and the Super Bowl are appointment viewing, and they are kind of immune to the audience erosion that has been going on," said Brad Adgate, senior VP-director of audience research for Horizon Media, New York. "They are certainly the crown jewels of broadcast."
If the Academy Awards broadcast follows its usual trend, this year's event won't beat last year's ratings, when "Shakespeare in Love" won the award for best picture. Still, agency executives say the return of comedian Billy Crystal as host could pump up ratings somewhat.
"Sometimes the Oscars are pageantry; sometimes it's a horse race," said Doug Seay, senior VP-director of broadcast programming at Publicis & Hal Riney, New York. "This year, I think it's curiosity. These are not cozy, fun movies."
BOX OFFICE BRINGS BUZZ
While "American Beauty," "The Cider House Rules," "The Green Mile," "The Insider" and "The Sixth Sense" have been nominated in the best picture category, only one -- mystery-thriller "The Sixth Sense" -- was a big box office hit, grabbing a sizable $275 million in U.S. receipts in 1999.
Typically, box office performance is a harbinger of Oscar's TV ratings performance. Thus, 1997's "Titanic," which became the all-time box office champ with nearly $1.7 billion in worldwide receipts, boosted ABC's 1998 broadcast Nielsen rating to a 34.9 and a 55 share -- the broadcast's highest since 1983.
"The truth is you need a year that has big movies," said Bob Igiel, president, broadcast division, the Media Edge, New York. "Whenever there's been a big box office, it's also big with ratings."