ABC Sells Out Its Oscars Inventory, With 30-Second Spots Going for as Much as $2.6 Million

Even in a controversy-filled year, demand for the telecast remained strong

ABC said this year's telecast will include a 90-second ad pod devoted to Marriott Bonvoy. ABC
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The Academy Awards has made more than its share of missteps and controversy when it comes to putting together Sunday’s ceremony and reversing the Oscar’s falling ratings, but things are continuing to run fairly smoothly on the business side. ABC said today that the network has sold out its Oscars ad inventory, four days ahead of the Feb. 24 telecast.

This year’s 30-second spots are selling for as much as $2.6 million. That’s a drop from last year’s telecast, during which 30-second spots went for as much as $2.8 million. (But according to Kantar Media, Oscars spots in 2018 averaged $2.1 million, with this year’s average price expected to reach $2.2 million.)

The sellout comes as ABC and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been weathering a bumpy year in its efforts to stop the ceremony’s ratings slide. Most notably, Kevin Hart stepped down as Oscars host in December, just two days after he got the job, after a growing controversy over old homophobic tweets of his that resurfaced. Now, the Oscars will be without a host for the first time since 1989.

That was just one of many controversial decisions the Academy and Oscars producers have made this year in an attempt to cut the ceremony down to three hours, only to reverse themselves after severe backlash. Earlier, only two of the Best Song nominees were going to perform during the telecast; now all five songs will air.

Then the Academy said four awards—Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Live Action Short, and Best Makeup and Hairstyling—would be handed out during ad breaks, with edited versions of those wins and speeches edited into the show. On Friday, the Academy said all awards would be presented live.

Even with this year’s controversies, advertiser demand this year is “as strong as ever,” new ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke told Adweek.

“We didn’t see a dip in the commitment level,” said Jerry Daniello, svp, entertainment brand solutions, Disney ad sales, adding that there was “a steady stream of commitments” throughout the various twists and turns.

In fact, the various Oscars-related headlines over the past two months “sparked further interest in clients who wanted to figure out creative ways in which they could wrap themselves around not having a host,” said Daniello. “People were like, how can we make the most of that?”

But clients and the networks weren’t happy with the notion that some viewers would tune in to the Academy’s livestream—and away from the ads—to watch those four awards handed out during ad breaks.

“We were in conversation with the Academy to make sure that there was not a promotional plan in place to direct viewers from live broadcast to their social handles for the livestream,” Daniello said.

This year’s advertisers include “proud sponsors” Cadillac, Google, Marriott Bonvoy, Rolex, Samsung, Verizon and Walmart as well as “participating sponsors” Budweiser, Ferrero, Hennessy Cognac, IBM, McDonald’s, Paramount, TurboTax and Walt Disney Studios, among others. Some of those deals had been locked in during last year’s upfront.

For the first time, Daniello said, this year’s telecast will include a 90-second isolated ad pod devoted to Marriott Bonvoy, the company’s new rewards program (representing the merger of the Starwood Preferred Guest and Marriott Rewards programs).

Budweiser will run a 60-second spot in the telecast featuring Charlize Theron and touting its Reserve Copper Lager. The brand had originally planned on running a 30-second version of the spot in the Super Bowl but held off to give the Budweiser Reserve Copper Lager its own stage a month later.

Advertisers seemed to be undaunted by the ceremony’s recent ratings slide. Last year’s Oscars audience fell 20 percent to its lowest ratings ever. Just 26.5 million people watched the ceremony, making it the lowest-rated Academy Awards telecast in total viewers since 1974, which is as far back as Nielsen has telecast data.

The telecast had a 6.8 rating among adults 18-49, a 25 percent drop from last year’s 9.1 demo rating, which at the time was the smallest 18-49 Oscars audience on record.

Some of the “proud” and “participating” brands have digital Oscars sponsorships in addition to running ads during the linear broadcast. Walmart is sponsoring the Oscar’s Twitter show, and Verizon will sponsor the live Oscar play-along game.

Oscars Sunday generates more ad revenue for ABC than any other day of the year. Last year’s ad revenue totaled $149 million, according to Kantar Media, with $133 million coming from the ceremony and $17 million from the red carpet show. That’s a 17 percent increase from 2017, when the network brought in $128 million.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.