Advertisers remain willing to put big bucks behind the Oscars, even if its recent February broadcast was its lowest rated in eight years and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is late to name a producer and host for the 2017 awards ceremony on ABC.
The Walt Disney network has been pressing for more than $2.1 million for its remaining handful of 30-second ads in its February, 2017, broadcast of the annual movie awards, according to people familiar with the negotiations. ABC has shown a small amount of room for flexibility: One media buyer said the network was recently willing to do a deal with a $2 million price tag. In recent years, 30-second spots in the event have typically gone for anywhere between $1.7 million and $2.2 million.
The high cost suggests Madison Avenue remains enamored of the event despite its recent hiccups – another signal that advertisers will fork over dollars for TV programs that reach big crowds in a fell swoop in an era when new technology often splinters the audience for many TV offerings. ABC’s 2016 Oscars broadcast captured about 34.4 million viewers, a 7% slump from the 2015 event, which reached nearly 37.3 million. Both broadcasts marked relative lows for the event. The 2016 broadcast was engulfed in controversy owing to a lack of non-white nominees, while many of the best-picture candidates were smaller films.
Much of TV has been affected by the rise of mobile devices, streaming video and on-demand behavior. Those dynamics have forced advertisers to aggregate a base of consumers across multiple streams of a single TV program. The Oscars, much like the Super Bowl, TV’s biggest annual broadcast, are supposed to be different: Many viewers tend to watch them live, can’t zap past the ads with a mouse click or a DVR, and what’s more, often turn to social media during the broadcast to register their approval or disenchantment
ABC’s 2015 Oscars broadcast lured about $110 million in ad spending, according to Kantar, marking a 16% increase from the previous year. The average cost of a 30-second spot in the most recent broadcast grew 4% to about $1.78 million, according to data from Standard Media Index, compared with $1.71 million in 2015.
ABC is also working with advertisers to capture the digital crowd surrounding the Oscars. The network, known for “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” among other programs, has been seeking between $500,000 and $1.5 million for ads placed in digital extensions of the linear broadcast, according to people familiar with the talks. One of the opportunities available involves working with the popular instant-messaging app Snapchat.
In some cases, ABC has sought to package ad time in the Oscars with a pre-show commercial that might have a price tag of between $300,000 to $500,000, according to one of the people.
The eyebrow-raising figures come despite the fact that the Oscars have experienced a viewership crunch in recent years – one that neither the 2016 host, Chris Rock, or last year’s emcee, Neil Patrick Harris, has been able to alleviate. In recent years, several awards programs – usually a stable, big-ticket item for Madison Avenue – have seen ratings declines. CBS’ February broadcast of the Grammys, for example, saw viewership slipped to 24.95 million, compared with 25.3 million viewers in the previous year. The 2106 show aired on a Monday, not the event’s usual berth.
While audiences for these events may be ebbing, they remain substantial. TV’s biggest regular primetime broadcasts typically snare between 13 million and 15 million viewers overall, and between 4 million and 7 million viewers between 18 and 49, the demographic most desired by advertisers.
Oscar ratings often fluctuate each year depending on the mix of nominees. When the top movies nominated are arty films aimed at older audiences, viewership tends to slump. When the nominees for best films are blockbusters, the ratings increase. In 1998, approximately 55 million viewers tuned in to see the crowd-pleasing “Titanic” win “Best Picture.” Oscar ratings hit a new low in 2008, when just 32 million tuned in to see “No Country For Old Men” win the big prize, down from about 38.9 million the year before.
There are other factors behind the Oscars’ ability to command higher prices. The Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences limits the amount of advertising time allowed in the awards broadcast, meaning the commercials have a better chance of standing apart from the pack. In 2015, for example, the Oscars broadcast on ABC contained about 29 minutes’ and 45 seconds of ads, according to Kantar, compared with 27 minutes in 2014. In 2015, the Golden Globes contained about 36 minutes of advertising and the Grammys contained about 40 minutes and 30 seconds.
General Motors, Kohl’s, Samsung, Johnson & Johnson’s Neutrogena, AARP and King’s Hawaiian were among the sponsors in ABC’s 2016 Oscars telecast.