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In a sense, the last three years of Christian Bale’s career have run in lockstep with the fortunes of the TV advertising market. After having put together an eclectic body of work, the actor was reduced to serving as a memetic punch line when a recording of his expletive-choked, on-set rant became the toast of the Web. But Bale turned it around in 2010, crafting his greatest performance as a washed-up boxer in David O. Russell’s The Fighter—a role that earned him an Oscar nomination.  

So it’s gone with the ad sales racket. While the recession knocked the networks off their feet, they’re back on the ropes and punching above their weight. For both the actor and the TV industry, this year’s gala could be a portent for flush times ahead.

After a two-year downturn, the demand for time in the Oscars broadcast is such that ABC is pricing deals at rates comparable to the high-water mark of 2008. The average price per 30-second spot in the 80th Academy Awards telecast was around $1.8 million, making it the most expensive buy in the history of the event. (Clients didn’t enjoy the reach to which they’ve become accustomed; with an average draw of 31.8 million viewers, the 2008 ceremony was the least watched Oscars ever.)

This year, sponsors are investing as much as $1.75 million per 30-seconds, a price that has swelled as a result of an ad market that continues to be stubbornly robust. In the wake of a Super Bowl that saw Fox take in some $300 million in in-game ad revenue alone, the fact that ABC could generate as much as $85 million with its Feb. 27 Oscars broadcast suggests that this spring’s upfront will be a doozy.

“Certainly the fact that clients aren’t hesitating to invest these big sums is a sign that their confidence is back,” said one national TV buyer. “But the first thing I’d look at is scatter.”

Broadcast pricing in the first quarter is up as much as 35 percent over the 2010-11 upfront rates, which presages another lucrative spring sell-off.

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