Price Cut: Oscar sales lose luster

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The Academy Awards, traditionally the year's second-biggest ad event, is losing some of its shine amid a glut of high-profile programs from the Super Bowl to the Olympics.

Media buyers estimate the cost of a 30-second spot on the Oscars has fallen to $1 million from last year's $1.3 million average-and they say it could fall more. "There are plenty of spots available," said one media executive.

American Express Co., a five-year sponsor, opted not to advertise on ABC's March 24 broadcast this year.

An ABC spokeswoman said an ABC senior ad sales executive could not be reached for comment at press time on pricing or advertisers in the broadcast.

While Amex, which had two spots in last year's show, will not be back, rival Mastercard International has swooped in. It could not be learned at press time how much time Mastercard bought.

An Amex spokeswoman said the company dropped out because it's been "focusing more recently on sponsorships which involve added-value events for cardmembers."

Hewlett-Packard Co., which bought two units last year, is also passing on the Oscars, according to an executive at its agency, Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco.

REPEAT BUSINESS

Among the returnees are two long-time Academy Awards advertisers-PepsiCo's Pepsi-Cola Co. and General Motors Corp.-as well as second-year advertiser Anheuser-Busch Cos. GM, the largest Oscar advertiser with six spots this year, will advertise Cadillac's CTS sedan, Escalade sport utility and Escalade EXT pickup sport utility.

This year's show will benefit from the buzz around the Academy Awards' move into a new permanent home, the Kodak Theatre.

But Walt Disney Co.'s ABC faces a lackluster ad market and is fighting for advertisers' attention against February's Super Bowl on News Corp.'s Fox and Winter Olympics on General Electric Co.'s NBC. "It's the double whammy," said Doug Seay, senior VP-director of national broadcast for Publicis Groupe's Publicis & Hal Riney, New York.

Media executives contend the lower price for the Oscar broadcast this year represents a move to more realistic pricing after 8% to 10% annual price in each of the last 10 years.

Academy Awards advertisers in recent years have been scaling back. Traditionally, an Oscar advertiser would buy five to seven spots and return every year as an incumbent with a similar buys. Because of the incumbencies, it was difficult for new advertisers to join the show.

That's changed. For the 2000 Oscars, Revlon-which had bought as many as 10 spots in the show in previous years-cut its buy to just three spots. In 2001, it bailed out altogether. Now ABC, which has aired the event every year since the mid-`70s, finds itself selling the show piecemeal.

The Academy Awards, called the "Super Bowl for Women," garners big ratings. But they have been slipping. Last year's broadcast scored a Nielsen Media Research 26.2 rating of TV households and 40 share of TV viewers, attracting 42.9 million viewers-the fewest since 1997 and the second fewest since 1991.

contributing: mercedes m. cardona, alice z.cuneo, hillary chura, jean halliday

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