In Selling Out the Oscars, ABC Generates a Record Haul

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Jimmy Kimmel will host the Oscars on March 4 on ABC.
Jimmy Kimmel will host the Oscars on March 4 on ABC. Credit: ABC/Image Group LA

Marketers who may have been hoping to get a zero-hour deal on an ad unit in the Oscars are out of luck, as ABC on Thursday announced it has sold out the last of its available inventory in the March 4 broadcast.

The sellout was made official two weeks after Disney-ABC TV Group ad sales president Rita Ferro told Ad Age that the network had locked in commitments for 98 percent of the commercial time in the 90th Academy Awards. In a new statement, ABC said Ferro and her team have set a record for Oscars ad sales revenue, with the overall haul topping last year's take by as much as 9 percent.

According to media buyers, the going rate for a 30-second spot in this year's Academy Awards maxed out at around $2.6 million a pop, although most of the advertisers that ponied up for time in the big show paid anywhere between $2.3 million and $2.5 million per unit. In any event, ABC's pricing marked a significant premium compared to the average unit cost of $1.9 million in last year's broadcast—an estimate furnished by Standard Media Index.

The elevated ad rates reflect the difficulty advertisers face when trying to secure some real estate in and around TV's biggest live events. While last year's broadcast delivered record low ratings—with an average draw of 32.9 million viewers, the 2017 show was the second least-watched Oscarcast in modern TV history, while attracting the fewest-ever number of adults 18 to 49 (11.7 million) and notching the all-time lowest household rating (18.4)—it still ranked as the No. 8 broadcast of 2017. Simply put, outside of NFL football and other top-tier sports, the opportunities to deliver one's message to such a large, engaged live-TV audience are few and far between.

While the Oscars offers a relatively uncluttered marketing environment (the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sets a cap on the volume of advertising that airs during the event), the ad load in recent years has shown some signs of bloat. According to Kantar Media, ABC between 2007 and 2012 aired around 60 30-second ads and promotional units in each of its Oscars broadcasts, which added up to a little more than 31 minutes in commercial/promo time. In the past three years, the spot load has jumped to as many as 80 units, or 45 minutes of ad time, although in-house ABC promos accounted for around two-thirds of the bonus units.

According to iSpot.tv data, Samsung Mobile, Walmart, AT&T Wireless, Rolex, Verizon, Cadillac and McDonald's were among the biggest spenders in last year's Oscars broadcast. ABC confirmed that all of those advertisers would return for this year's show, where they will join the likes of Discover Card, Johnson and Johnson, Microsoft, Netflix, T-Mobile, General Electric and Nike.

"In addition to being the most highly viewed event that celebrates storytelling and excellence in film, the Oscars provides advertisers opportunities to engage with viewers in meaningful ways during a cultural moment they care about," Ferro said in a statement. "In celebration of the 90th Oscars, we worked alongside advertisers who developed custom creative—featuring female empowerment, inclusiveness and uplifting themes—that will be sure to resonate with our audience like never before."

Earlier this month, Ferro told Ad Age that some of this year's Oscars advertisers specifically had invested in the broadcast in order to develop creative that celebrated women.

Hosted for the second consecutive year by Jimmy Kimmel, who in January joked that an unlikely repeat of last year's staggering Best Picture snafu should result in the immediate termination of "literally everyone that works at ABC," the 90th Annual Academy Awards will be broadcast live from Hollywood's Dolby Theatre. The festivities officially get underway Sunday, March 4 at 8 p.m. EST.

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