Oscars get $1.4 mil tag

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Encouraged by a strong national TV ad market, Walt Disney Co.'s ABC is asking a hefty $1.4 million for a 30-second spot in March's "Academy Awards" broadcast.

The Oscars are usually the second highest-rated TV show after the Super Bowl. The pricing is up from this year's $1.2 million to $1.3 million range, according to media agency executives, and equals the $1.4 million ABC fetched for the 2001 broadcast, according to media buyers.

ABC has been making visits to buyers recently to shop the Oscars, which caught some media executives by surprise. "It was an unsolicited presentation," said one media buyer. "If they are out trying to stir up activity, it seems like they have a lot of inventory left to sell."

Even so, some media executives want to buy the broadcast now, fearing a tight national TV ad market will make quality prime-time inventory like the Oscars tough to secure. "I don't want to get caught later on" with no inventory to buy, said one veteran media buyer.

An ABC spokesman said the company does not comment on pricing.

In recent years, the Academy Awards broadcast has been filled with spots from returning sponsors. But in 2000, Revlon, a major advertiser on the show, cut back its 10 commercials in the broadcast to three before abandoning it altogether in 2001. Some ABC sales executives are worried other Oscar advertisers, looking to spread their media buys in a tight market, could trim back their multiple commercial commitments in the show.

Long-time Academy Awards advertisers include PepsiCo's Pepsi-Cola Co., General Motors Corp. and Anheuser-Busch Cos. GM was last year's largest Oscar advertiser, with six spots.

American Express Co., a five-year sponsor, opted out last year, while MasterCard International and United Parcel Service signed on for the first time. It was unclear at press time whether those advertisers would return in 2003.

ABC's price hike comes amid a robust fourth quarter and first-quarter 2003 scatter period. Prices for network shows are 15% to 20% higher than upfront pricing set in June of this year.

Scatter buying is the near-term quarter-by-quarter buying of TV commercials while upfront deals are season-long purchases of commercial time inked before the broadcast season commences.

Moreover, national TV advertisers are not exercising their options to cancel first-quarter buys.

Marketers can cancel up to 25% of their upfront buys for the first quarter, and they normally cancel between 10% to 12%. But this year, first-quarter 2003 cancellations are in the 2% to 3% range. "They are at historic lows," said Tim Spengler, exec-VP director of national programming for Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative Media, New York.

All of which indicates ABC may get its price for the Academy Awards.

"It's a hefty price tag," said Larry Novernstern, senior VP-director of national broadcast for Interpublic's Deutsch, New York. "[But] if fewer options are taken, any demand is going to accelerate pricing."

big prize

Award shows are big business for the networks-enough that the Big Four last week had to ace out pay-cable network HBO for the rights to the Emmy Awards. The ad-free cable network sought to steal away the Emmys with a $10 million, five-year offer to acquire the rights from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

But the broadcast networks topped that with a $52 million, eight-year deal. General Electric Co.'s NBC, Viacom's CBS, News Corp.'s Fox and ABC will each take turns airing the event. Last year's Emmys brought in $450,000 per 30-second spot, which works out-after ad agency fees paid by the networks-to $25 million in ad revenue.

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