Stage Fright Hits Oscars | Adweek
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Stage Fright Hits Oscars

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As ABC works to get the last of the Oscars spots off its plate, the net has reworked its rate card, cutting around 18 percent off its original ask with a new base rate of $1.4 million. In addition to a moribund ad market, ABC has had to contend with the issue of last year’s historically low ratings. Per Nielsen, some 32 million viewers tuned in for the 80th Academy Awards, down from 39.9 million in 2007.

“Besides the ratings issue, the fact is that advertisers are really taking a long look at how they’re investing their marketing dollars, and discount or no, this is still a lot of money,” said Jon Swallen, senior vp, research, TNS Media Intelligence. “Even a reduced price tag is still a barrier to entry.”

Swallen estimates that ABC could bring in around $68 million with this year’s Oscars broadcast, a 15 percent decline from last year’s estimated $81.1 million haul. “The most-watched Oscars in the last 15 years was in 1998, when Titanic won everything,” said Swallen. “You had record box-office and that drove the ratings way up [to 55.2 million viewers]. This year, we aren’t seeing that.”

Although Swallen suspects that this year’s Oscars could deliver a 5 percent greater audience, as consumers continue to turn toward cheaper forms of entertainment, some observers believe that the entire awards-show genre is starting to wither. Brad Adgate, senior vp, director of research at Horizon Media, blames audience churn on glut and tedium.

“The shows are too long, and too much time is spent on the less prestigious categories,” Adgate said. Moreover, the median age of the major trophy broadcasts has risen as younger viewers turn to digital-media platforms.  

“The Academy Awards has a median age of 49.5 years, and that’s on the wrong side of the key [18-49] demo for marketers looking to reach the target,” Adgate said. Case in point: A year ago, ABC’s Oscars coverage averaged a record low 10.7 rating among 18-49s, down 24 percent from the 2007 broadcast.

For all the uncertainty, ABC has retained a good number of high-end sponsors, including Coca-Cola and JCPenney. The beverage giant will roll out fresh creative for Diet Coke, while the retailer will hype duds from its portfolio of exclusive designers (Nicole Miller, Bisou Bisou by Michele Bohbot, etc.). This year marks JCPenney’s eighth consecutive year as the exclusive retail sponsor of the Academy Awards. Per TNS Media Intelligence, the company has spent $59.1 million on Oscars ad time since 2001.

Adgate said that the hubbub that surrounds the Oscars every year from a marketing standpoint suffers from an unfair comparison to winter’s other major broadcast showcase.
“Everybody always calls the Oscars ‘the Super Bowl for Women.’ The Super Bowl is the Super Bowl for women,” Adgate said. “More women watched this year’s game than all the people who watched last year’s Oscars, male or female. If you’re looking for a female audience, maybe you need to start looking at Tom Brady instead of Tom Cruise.”