On the heels of NBC’s lucrative Super Bowl sell-off, ABC has moved the last remaining advertising inventory in its 84th annual Academy Awards broadcast.
Speaking to investors during the Walt Disney Co.’s quarterly earnings call, Mouse House president and CEO Bob Iger told investors ABC sold out the Feb. 26 Academy Awards “about a week ago.” Iger added that demand was such that some marketers had to be turned away.
While Iger did not comment on pricing, sources say ABC was able to land an average unit cost of $1.7 million—roughly on par with what clients spent for an Oscars spot in 2011. Two years ago, a 30-second spot in the broadcast fetched around $1.5 million.
That marketers are willing to spend that kind of money on Hollywood’s annual Valentine to itself suggests that there’s still a good deal of value in reach. The Academy Awards draws the fourth-largest audience on television, behind the Super Bowl and the AFC and NFC Championship games.
Among the marketers that bought time in last year’s Oscars are: AT&T, Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble, Hyundai, Sprint, Unilever (Dove) and JCPenney.
This year marks the third solid outing for ABC after the annus horribilis of 2009, in which both General Motors and L’Oréal Paris backed out of their usual commitments. L’Oréal bought 180 seconds of air time in the 2008 broadcast, making it the second-largest investor behind General Motors (210 seconds). Shortly after GM announced it was backing out of the show, Hyundai stepped in to take its place.
A single spot in the 2008 Academy Awards cost nearly $1.3 million. In four years, the rate has increased by a factor of 30 percent.
ABC hopes to rebound from a lackluster performance in 2011, when a mismatched hosting duo and a slate of depressing Best Picture nominees drove deliveries down 10 percent to 37.6 million viewers. Taking the podium for the ninth time, Oscar favorite Billy Crystal replaces last year’s pairing of a listless and disinterested James Franco and the saucer-eyed, overcompensating Anne Hathaway.
Crystal is something of a good-luck charm for the Oscars. The last time the comedian hosted the event (2004), ABC delivered 43.6 million viewers—a mark the broadcast has failed to reach in each of the following seven years.
Also not lost on anyone at ABC is the fact that Crystal was the host of the most-watched Oscars broadcast of all time. On March 23, 1998, during a ceremony in which Titanic cruised away with 11 gold statuettes, ABC delivered a whopping 57.3 million viewers.
All told, Crystal-hosted Academy Awards broadcasts boast an average draw of 45.2 million viewers.
For all that, even Billy Crystal isn’t bulletproof. The year before he hosted the record-smashing 70th Academy Awards, the comedian walked into the shooting range that was The English Patient. Among the films nominated for Best Picture of 2007, the morose, impossibly long Ralph Fiennes melodrama was joined by the low-budget art house dramas Secrets & Lies and Shine. (At the time it was nominated, Secrets & Lies was playing on just 93 screens across the U.S. By way of comparison, Jerry McGuire was on 2,000.)
If an argument can be made for the correlation between low-budget Best Picture nominees and depressed ratings—a record low 31.8 million viewers tuned in for the 80th Academy Awards (Juno, Michael Clayton, No Country for Old Men)—Crystal could have his work cut out for him this time around.
The prohibitive favorite to take home the Best Picture statuette is The Artist, a silent black-and-white film from France set in the late 1920s.