Audiences for TV’s biggest award shows may be in decline, but ad prices are not.
ABC has been seeking around $2 million for a 30-second spot in its April 25 broadcast of the 93rd annual Academy Awards, according to two people familiar with negotiations, and the network does not appear to be facing much resistance. Two media buyers with knowledge of the Disney outlet’s approach to Madison Avenue say they have not recently taken any pressure-filled calls from ad-sales executives eager to unload ad time as the event draws closer.
Disney declined to make ad-sales executives available for comment.
Last year’s Oscars generated nearly $129.2 million in advertising, according to Kantar a tracker of ad spending. In 2019, the ABC broadcast spurred nearly $114.2 million in advertising. After seeing ad prices decline in the face of last decade’s Great Recession, ABC has built the cost back up. Ads in recent years have typically run for between $1.8 million and more than $2 million, according to media buyers.
“They are trying their best to provide the most robust opportunity for their sponsors, given what they are dealing with,” says Jenna Fidellow, senior vice president of branded partnerships for Havas Media, in an interview. “This is launching in a time when March Madness will be over. It feels like a new window during these unprecedented times to give the show an opportunity, to maybe show up a little differently.”
Advertiser interest in the broadcast remains high even though award-show viewership does not. CBS’ recent broadcast of the Grammys notched just 8.8 million viewers — the smallest audience on record for the telecast and a tumble of 53% from the 18.7 million who watched in 2020. NBC’s broadcast of the Golden Globes appealed to only 6.9 million viewers, another record low that was 63% less than what the event fetched in the year prior.
Other awards broadcasts are also in decline. In 2020, the Emmys broadcast in September also marked a nadir for audience levels. The broadcast on ABC fetched just 6.1 million viewers, down about 12% from 2019.
It’s easy to assign blame for the trend to the coronavirus pandemic, which has rendered impossible some of the programs’ biggest draws. Viewers tune in to see live performances, groups of celebrities meeting in person, and the drama that always comes with real-time performance. Much of that has to be scuttled under current protocols.
But award-show gawkers have been eroding for some time. In 2010, the Oscars nabbed a crowd of nearly 41.7 million people. In 2019, its audience was 29.6 million. Viewership for the Globes, however, had been holding steady before the pandemic.
ABC and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have taken pains to rework the Oscar show for current times. Noted director Steven Soderbergh has been hired as one of the producers, and organizers have committed to holding some live but limited gathering at Los Angeles’ Union Station.
The show is typically one of TV’s biggest annual broadcasts, and advertisers often seize the occasion to launch new campaigns. Among the biggest sponsors of the event in recent years are Verizon, which spent $12.9 million in 2020, according to Kantar; Rolex, which spent $11.3 million; and General Motors’ Cadillac, which spent nearly $10.7 million last year. While some buyers say they are concerned about the award-show audience declines, ABC does not offer a ratings guarantee for the event, which limits its exposure to having to provide “make-goods,” or additional commercial inventory to make up for any gap in audience.
The pandemic has created some obstacles. ABC can’t offer much in the way of pre-show product placement, because there won’t be much of a traditional procession on any red carpet. Ad-sales executives have focused on helping Oscars sponsors expand their message with ancillary placement in Disney programming that ranges from “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to “Live! With Kelly and Ryan,” suggests Fidellow.
As with most things related to film and entertainment, the final judgement on this year’s Oscars will be that of the audience. All the Madison Avenue participants can do for now is watch and wait.