Oscars sells out all of its commercial units (who needs a host?)

No host? No problem

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Despite the absence of a host and a slate of Best Picture nominees that includes a made-for-TV movie, advertisers don't seem to have been particularly anxious about investing in this year's Academy Awards broadcast. And while ABC may have faced some headwinds as it parceled out the last of its Oscars inventory—Kevin Hart's sloppily executed self-recusal from the emcee gig back in December left the network in uncharted waters—the sellout reinforces the notion that, aside from the NFL, there's no business like show business.

In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, Disney-ABC TV Group's ad sales team confirmed that it had sold off the last available unit in the 91st Academy Awards, which kicks off Sunday at 8 p.m. EST. Among the advertisers who have committed to the three-hour-plus show are Anheuser-Busch InBev (Budweiser), Cadillac, Google, Hennessy, IBM, McDonald's, Rolex, Samsung, Verizon and Walmart. Among the show's studio backers are ABC corporate sibling Walt Disney Studios and Paramount Pictures.

Details about each client's Oscars strategy remain scant, although Walmart has committed to airing six themed 30-second spots. Each Walmart ad will feature Hollywood stylists curating looks for crew members who work behind-the-scenes in the film industry.

Budweiser and Hennessy's plans have also been reported. Actress Charlize Theron stars in the brewer's 60-second spot, while director Ridley Scott has lensed Hennessy's first-ever Oscars effort.

Although ABC announced the sell-out just four days before Sunday night's broadcast, insiders say the network closed out its last bit of Oscars business two weeks ago. This is in keeping with the pace of recent years, in which the network has wrapped up its efforts within around 10 days of the glitzy event.

Pricing for this year's broadcast was consistent with the 2018 show, with 30-second commercial spots fetching around $2.1 million to $2.2 million a pop. According to national TV buyers, the rates were not meaningfully impacted by Hart's bailout.

While multiple buyers have said that advertisers didn't balk at this year's somewhat unconventional Oscars format, clients understandably will be keeping an eye on the Nielsen ratings. Last year's show averaged a record low 26.5 million viewers and a 14.9 household rating. While those deliveries were sufficient to give ABC bragging rights to the year's 16th most-watched broadcast, they also marked a 19 percent decline when compared to the 2017 ceremony.

As is the case with pretty much everything else on TV, the turnout for Hollywood's annual celebration of itself has been trending downward for a number of years. In the span of a mere four years, the Oscarcast has lost 40 percent of its audience, and while ABC is not on the hook for makegoods—as with the Super Bowl, ratings guarantees are not furnished to advertisers who buy Oscars inventory—the declines are likely to play a role in next year's unit pricing.

Also worth keeping an eye on is the age of the Oscars audience. While nowhere near as superannuated as the Academy members, which boast a median age of nearly 65 years, the TV viewership has grown a bit long in the tooth. Per Nielsen, the audience for the 2018 show was 56.1 years, up from 49.5 years a decade ago and 39.9 years back in 1995. Of course, as linear TV increasingly becomes the province of the AARP set, this sort of greying is hardly a problem that is specific to the Oscars—although it may also account for the disappearance of the once-dominant cosmetics/beauty category.

If recent award-show trends are anything to go by, Sunday's broadcast may not experience another significant year-over-year ratings drop. CBS earlier this month posted a slight gain in overall Grammys viewership, while NBC's Golden Globes deliveries slipped just 2 percent.

"I think what we continue to see is that live events draw an engaged audience, and an audience of people who even tend to be SVOD users, so the value still exists for these programs," says Mike Law, executive VP, managing director, video investment for Dentsu Aegis. "While the Super Bowl linear ratings were down, the Grammys held versus a year ago, so we are hopeful we will see the same for the Oscars."

Besides the sheer reach the Academy Awards still affords its advertisers, the broadcast is also valued for its relative lack of clutter. (The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sets a cap on the volume of advertising that airs during the event.) According to Kantar Media, ABC last year aired around 32 minutes of paid ads in its Oscars broadcast, which was well shy of the 41 minutes and 40 seconds of commercial time during CBS's 2018 presentation of the Grammy Awards.

All told, Kantar estimates that ABC last year sold $133 million in Oscars inventory, a haul that inflated to $149 million upon inclusion of the spots that aired during its red carpet coverage.

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