Film ads to run during Oscar telecast

Academy votes to ease ban on movie promos

Movie ads have always been banned from the movies’ biggest night on TV.

Not any more.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences board of governors voted Tuesday night to ease its longstanding ban on movie advertisements running in the Oscar telecast.

The board voted to allow a limited number of spots for movies that will not open until the last week of April at the earliest — meaning that none of the nommed pics can be tubthumped during the telecast, Acad prexy Sid Ganis told Daily Variety. Ads for sequels or prequels to pics in contention in the picture, docu and animation categories will not be allowed.

Acad had banned movie advertising ever since the Oscars were first televised in 1953 in an effort to avoid any suggestion that studio coin influenced the outcome of the awards.

Acad’s move could also be a step toward adding a little popcorn appeal to the telecast following recent criticism that the awards have focused on indie pics with niche-aud appeal.

The showcase of never-before-seen spots for, say, next year’s tentpoles like “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” “G.I. Joe” and “Terminator Salvation,” could be a highly promotable element for next year’s telecast — especially as the Oscars are looking to rebound from this year’s record-low aud of 32 million viewers.

Next year’s telecast is set for Feb. 22 on ABC. The “Dreamgirls” duo of Bill Condon and Laurence Mark have been tapped as first-time Oscarcast producers.

Among the Academy’s other rules for accepting movie ads:

  • Acad will allow one spot per distributor, either 30 or 60 seconds in length.

  • The spot must not have run anywhere else prior to its debut on the Oscarcast.

  • The spot may not use the terms “Oscar” or “Academy Award.”

  • The spot may only promote one pic, not a slate of pics.

  • There will only be one movie spot per commercial break during the three-hour telecast.

    Despite this year’s weak ratings, which marked a 20% decline from 2007, the inclusion of movie advertisers could well juice the spot price that ABC can command for the show, although a good portion of the inventory has already been spoken for.

    This year’s telecast garnered an average fee of about $1.8 million per 30-second spot. The Oscars are less vulnerable to ratings swings than other programs, because it is a glitzy affair with which advertisers want to associate and because the Oscars still qualify as an annual “event” a la the Super Bowl.

    Demand for the show’s ad time was never in doubt, yet General Motors still made headlines earlier this year when it confirmed that it would pull out of its longstanding position as the show’s exclusive auto advertiser. (Just before news of the board’s decision on movie advertising broke, word surfaced Wednesday that Hyundai Motor America has taken GM’s place as the sole auto sponsor.)

    Studio marketing mavens said Wednesday that they were still absorbing the news and the rules for buying time.

    The pricing and placement of the spots will be key, one exec said. But in the big picture, the Acad’s move was applauded.

    “It’s a great idea,” another marketing exec said. “It’s a large audience of tens of millions of people who are interested in movies. To not have taken advantage of that opportunity seems like it’s been a missed opportunity.”

    An ABC spokeswoman said the network was pleased with the decision, calling it an example of the Acad “evolving the Oscars and finding inventive new ways to celebrate the medium.”

    Ganis said the board has considered the question of movie ads in the Oscarcast for some time. At a previous board meeting, the governors decided to assemble a committee to study the issue; that committee made its recommendations to the board on Tuesday night.

    “We’ve been talking about it a lot,” Ganis said. “We’re a celebration of movies, and here is a way to get new movies out there in addition to celebrating movies from the previous year.”

    The Oscar telecast has never before featured a blurb for a specific pic. From 1958-60, the Oscarcasts aired commercial-free and were sponsored by “the motion picture industry,” meaning a gaggle of studios, prominent indie producers and exhibitors. That setup was eventually dropped because it was too much of an organizational headache for the Acad.

    Ganis would not disclose the vote tally other than to say that after the committee made its recommendation, “The gang was all for it.

    “We had a good, solid, intelligent discussion among board members from every branch of the Academy,” he said. “And we decided we should certainly give it a try, and hopefully, with good, solid ground rules, it’ll work just fine.”

    (Marc Graser contributed to this report.)