Viewership for TV’s annual Oscars broadcast is at a relative low, but that isn’t keeping ABC from seeking some of the highest costs possible to advertise in next year’s broadcast.
The Disney-owned network, which last year renewed a deal to broadcast the glitzy event through 2028, is seeking as much as $2.6 million for a 30-second commercial in the 2018 awards-fest, according to people familiar with the matter. ABC is said to be nearing sell-out of commercial inventory for next year’s broadcast, and is working on a few deals that would weave some sponsors in and around the show in a more significant way.
In some cases, ABC is seeking between $2.2 million and$2.5 million, one of these people said, though a media buyer suggested the network may have slightly more inventory available and could be open to deals around the $2 million mark. For this year’s broadcast, ABC initially sought more than $2.1 million for a 30-second ad. In recent years, 30-second Oscar ad spots have typically gone for between $1.8 million and $2.2 million.
The high numbers may surprise casual observers, who could note ABC’s 2017 Oscars telecast was one of the least-viewed sessions of the event since 2008 – 34.4 million, compared with 34.3 million in 2016. While the numbers mark a slight uptick year over year, Oscar ratings have more or less tumbled steadily since an Ellen DeGeneres-hosted telecast won 43.7 million viewers in 2014.
Some of the ad costs represent a premium over recent median prices. In 2017, the average price of a 30-second spot in the Oscars came to $1.897 million, according to Standard Media Index, a tracker of ad costs and spending. That’s up about 5.6% from 2016’s average cost of $1.797 million and up 12.5% from 2014’s average of $1.686 million.
Why does Madison Avenue pay more, not less? Simply put, big-ticket events on the order of the Oscars are increasingly difficult for advertisers to find. Even NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” can’t lure a crowd on par with the one that tunes in the Oscars. Advertisers are paying not only for the size of the TV crowd, but for the power of the Oscars to spark social-media chatter, which they hope to use to enter consumers’ of-the-moment conversations.
Advertisers also know the Oscar playing field is a protected one. 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.
Among the sponsors in 2017’s broadcast were American Express, McDonalds, General Motors, Samsung, Revlon, Berkshire Hathaway’s Geico and AARP. The 2016 Oscars telecast brought in approximately $115 million in ad revenue, according to Kantar Media.
Oscar ratings typically 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.