ABC Close to Selling Out Oscar Telecast at $1.9 Mil an Ad

Madison Avenue continues to rush to the Oscars.

ABC is nearing sell-out of its advertising inventory for its 2015 broadcast of the annual awards from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences, according to two media-buying executives and other people familiar with the situation, even though it is seeking what may be some of the highest prices ever charged for the event.

ABC is seeking around $1.9 million for a 30-second spot in the program, these people said. The cost of a spot in the most recent broadcast, hosted in March by Ellen DeGeneres, went for between $1.8 million and $1.9 million. The Oscars are set for a Feb. 22 broadcast on ABC with Neil Patrick Harris set to host for the first time and Craig Zadan and Neil Meron reprising their role as producers. Executives from the network could not be reached for comment.

The slight uptick in ad prices suggests that so-called “event” programming – shows that draw outsize audiences and are only available for a limited duration – has become as important as sports broadcasts as TV-viewing behavior becomes ever more splintered with the rise of time-shifting devices, video streaming and other new technologies. Indeed, NBC is seeking $350,000 or more for 30 seconds’ worth of ad time in its coming live broadcast of the play “Peter Pan.” The Oscars broadcast typically draws TV’s second-biggest primetime audience of the season, resting behind only that generated by the Super Bowl.

The 86h Oscars reached a 14-year ratings high, with DeGeneres, who took a much-celebrated “selfie” during the show using a phone placed by sponsor Samsung, viewed by an average of 43.7 million people, according to data from Nielsen. In comparison, an average of about 40.4 million watched ABC’s 2013 broadcast, hosted by Seth MacFarlane. Total ad revenue generated by ABC’s 2013 broadcast came to about $88.3 million, according to Kantar Media, a new high at the time.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences limits the amount of advertising allowed to run with the Oscars broadcast, which makes time on the show more scarce. Between nine and 10 minutes of national ad messages run per hour during the Oscars, according to Kantar. The Grammy Awards have run with as many as 14 minutes of commercials per hour.

Just a few years ago, the Oscars were in something of a post-recession slump. Ad prices in 2009 and 2010 fell as low as $1.3 million to $1.5 million for 30 seconds, as the nation worked itself slowly out of an economic crisis. In 2008, Oscars ads hit a previous high of $1.82 million for a half-minute berth.

Whether or not the ad prices can stay at current levels will likely hinge on the slate of nominees in the kudoscast in any given year. When the top movies nominated are arty films aimed at older audiences, viewership typically slumps. 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. Yet in 2003, when “Chicago” won the top honor, only 33 million watched. 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.

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