Oscar ad prices jump

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In contrast to TV's other big event this season-the Super Bowl on CBS-ABC has inked modest price increases of 7% to 11% with its incumbent advertisers for the 73rd annual Academy Awards broadcast.

The average price for a 30-second spot on the Oscar broadcast March 25 has jumped to $1.4 million from $1.3 million, according to ad agency media executives. Incumbent advertisers this year include General Motors Corp., AT&T Corp., American Express Co., McDonald's Corp., Merrill Lynch, Pepsi-Cola Co. and Sears, Roebuck & Co.-all of whom also have category exclusivity in the broadcast.

By comparison, this year's Super Bowl, TV's most-watched annual event, pulled in an average of $2.o5 million for a 30-second spot, down marginally from $2.1 million the year before, according to ad agency media-buying execs.

How could ABC raise Academy Award ad prices in a softening ad market? "I'm sure those incumbent deals were made prior to the market's collapse last fall," said a veteran East Coast ad agency media executive, noting that typically, special-event programming is done many months ahead of time. That's how CBS's "Survivor: The Australian Outback" was able to garner $10 million to $12 million in sponsorship deals from its advertisers, according to media executives.

ABC execs say the price hike is warranted because the Oscar broadcast still represents the single highest-rated annual entertainment program, and it's the best at attracting women viewers-some 28.1 million women watched the Oscars in 2000. For last year's event, ABC posted a 29.2 rating and a 48 share. That works out to 29.4 million households, or 46.3 million viewers.

ABC also is able to secure price hikes, according to media executives, because unlike the Super Bowl, which moves from network to network, ABC has broadcast the Oscars since 1976 and has inked long-term deals with advertisers. The result is that sponsors pay predictably modest annual increases; Super Bowl pricing is more volatile year to year.


For this year's Oscar broadcast, ABC has more piecemeal or "scatter" inventory to sell-about 10 spots, which agency execs said are priced at $1.4 million apiece. Two of the available spots come courtesy of Revlon, which for years bought eight 30-second spots and last year cut back to just two spots. This year, Revlon has backed out of the show completely.

ABC would rather not sell the spots one at a time, preferring instead to draw one major advertiser who can buy most of the inventory. Most of ABC's major incumbent advertisers already buy five to eight 30-second units in the broadcast.

"We would love to maintain the hair-care category," said Mike Shaw, president of sales and marketing for the ABC Television Network. "We think it would be in the interest of a company's long-term strategy to be tied into the biggest glamorous TV event."

But selling the spots in a block may be a tough, especially in a weakened ad market. "They've got to be insane in this marketplace to ask for this increase where there is little money around," said one veteran East Coast ad agency media executive. "It's a big load of money; it's not a CPM buy."

Working in ABC's favor is the fact that unlike the Super Bowl, ABC is selling a limited number of spots, which could firm up the pricing.

"Compared to other things, the program is still good," said Gary Carr, senior VP-director of national broadcast for Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative Media North America, New York. "And they still have some time; the event is not for another month."

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