Oscars Win Ad Awards, Big Clients Not Deterred By Niche Films

by , , Feb 17, 2006, 8:00 AM
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ABC's "Academy Awards" may increasingly honor niche, independent, and small box office films--but big advertisers continue to return in a major way, buying increasingly more expensive commercial time.

Miller Genuine Draft and the new AT&T are two advertisers that weren't in the show last year, but are returning for the "78th Annual Academy Awards." Both had bought the show in years past. Miller replaces Anheuser-Busch, which bought three spots a year ago, with category exclusivity. As previously reported, Coca-Cola--which also has advertised in previous years--will replace Pepsi-Co, which was a major sponsor last year.

The average price tag is $1.7 million for a 30-second spot--up from $1.6 million a year ago, according to media executives. CPM rates are in the $75 range for the adult 18-to-49 demo, and near $140 for women 25-54.

Media agency executives say the show is still effective for advertisers and viewers. "It has star appeal," said John Rash, senior vice president and director of national programming for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. "It's live and TiVo-proof, and is often as entertaining as the films themselves."

ABC's new Oscar pre-show, "Oscar Countdown 2006," will, for the first time, run an hour--it had been a half-hour long. According to media executives, prices for that commercial time run $800,000 to $900,000 for a 30-second spot.

Other returning advertisers from last year include: General Motors, Procter & Gamble, MasterCard, MasterFoods, American Express, JCPenney, McDonald's, L'Oreal, Kodak, Dyson Vacuum, and CareerBuilder. Many of these advertisers are incumbents that typically buy year in and year out--they also buy multiple 30-second commercial units. For instance, last year General Motors bought 8 units; Pepsi had 6; JCPenney, 5; American Express and L'Oreal, 4 each; Anheuser-Busch and MasterCard, 3 each; and P&G, Home Depot, and McDonald's, 2 each.

An ABC spokeswoman would only say that a majority of last year's advertisers are returning. She also said ad sales of the broadcast are "virtually done." ABC will release a list of advertisers soon.

This year--more than in previous years--virtually all of the movies nominated for best movie are small, limited-release movies--"Brokeback Mountain," "Crash," "Capote," and "Good Night and Good Luck." So far, "Brokeback," from Focus Films, has pulled in the most U.S. box office revenues--$66.4 million. Only Steven Spielberg's "Munich," from Universal Pictures, was a wide-release movie, earning $44.3 million to date in U.S. box office revenue.

While movies such as "Shakespeare In Love," "Chicago," and "The English Patient" were indie movies that took top honors in years past, those films had the benefit of being nominated with other bigger films. All this helped those broadcasts overall.

"Those movies were surrounded by more successful films," said Rash. "This year, all those films are smaller, more personal films, and more of a challenge for the show's ratings."

Of the new advertisers this year, Miller Brewing is re-launching its MGD, Miller Geninue Draft brand with new creative from The Martin Agency in Richmond, Va. The launch will be around the "Beer Grown Up" tag line.

AT&T will continue its "Your world. Delivered" campaign, running existing creative. The communications company is in the midst of a year-long effort to re-introduce itself after merging with SBC. AT&T, however, is playing off its tagline with special Hollywood-esqe banner ads on ABC's Oscar.com that read: "Red Carpet. Delivered." and "Gossip. Delivered." AT&T's Oscar appearance comes after it ran a pre-game ad on ABC during the Super Bowl (supplemented by an in-game spot buy in 13 states) and had a heavy run during the Olympics on NBC. "They're prime opportunities to reach mass audiences," said AT&T spokesman Michael Coe.

Long known as the Super Bowl for women, the Academy Awards have been amazingly consistent in ratings over the last several years--no matter what the movies' box office revenues. Since 2001, the show's Nielsen Media Research's household ratings have been 26.2, 25.4, 20.4, 26.0, and last year, 25.4.

Thirty-second commercials' prices have risen steadily by $100,000 a year since 1999, when the price tag was $1 million dollars. Like the Super Bowl, no matter the contest, advertisers want to be in the show.

"It's not a CPM buy," said one veteran media buying executive.

Oscar ratings declined slightly last year from the year before. Some on Madison Avenue expect that trend to continue, with independent and niche-appeal films taking center stage. The show will air Sunday, March 5.

"If the numbers went up, it would be a surprise because of the type of movies up for awards," said Lyle Schwartz, managing partner and director of broadcast research for Mediaedge:cia.

The "blockbuster effect" on awards-show performance was demonstrated last fall, as the Emmys saw a 33 percent jump among adults 18 to 49 with viewers tuning in to catch how "Desperate Housewives" and its stars fared.

Other big award shows have struggled--especially against strong competition. With "American Idol" on the same night, the Grammys earlier this month dropped 12 percent in adults 18 to 49. In January, the Golden Globes moved from Sunday to Monday--avoiding competition from "Desperate Housewives" and "Idol"--and benefited with an 11 percent gain in the demo. That show featured stars such as Reese Witherspoon and Philip Seymour Hoffman, who will return for the Oscars--which may augur well for ABC.

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