The 85th annual Academy Awards are fast approaching, and millions of viewers are expected to tune in. And advertisers have paid a hefty price to reach those millions of interested consumers. A 30-second spot in this Sunday’s broadcast is going for almost $1.8 million, a 9% increase over last year’s reported sticker price of $1.65 million. But even at those lofty prices, ABC has sold all of its inventory at a pace that it hasn’t seen in almost a decade. While ratings were up slightly last year versus 2011, the bump was modest (5%) and still below the 2010 telecast. So perhaps the change in hosts is driving the demand.
After the Academy dusted off Billy Crystal to host last year’s telecast, this year will feature first-time host Seth MacFarlane, known more for his raunchy sense of humor as the creator of Family Guy and Ted than for his link to mainstream Hollywood. It’s a bit of a risky move in that MacFarlane could alienate the older Hollywood elite with his brand of snarky humor. But I applaud the move to try to draw in a broader and decidedly younger audience than past hosts like Crystal or Steve Martin.
There’s no denying that the Oscars, much like the Super Bowl, is a sought-after television event that draws viewers and advertisers alike. Hyundai, Samsung, and Apple are a few of the brands expected to be in this Sunday’s telecast. And while the Super Bowl, with its $4-million-for-30-seconds cost, is another high-reach vehicle advertisers covet, the Oscars may actually be the better place to stand out. The commercial load in the Oscars is much lower than that of the Super Bowl or of network primetime in general. The Oscars typically have 8–10 minutes of commercials per hour, compared to 13–14 for the Super Bowl and 14–16 for primetime.
If, during those commercial breaks, viewer attention starts to drift away from the big screen to a tablet or mobile device, there’s an app to capture them there, too. The official Oscars app is available free of charge for both iOS and the Android. Prior to the telecast, the app will feature videos with insider perspectives and behind-the-scenes news. On Oscars Sunday, it will offer backstage access with views from more than a dozen live cameras, beginning with the Red Carpet through the end of the broadcast. These additional camera angles will allow viewers to watch behind-the-scenes footage, celebrity interactions, sound bites, and interviews. A smart strategy to be sure, given that social commentary about the awards has skyrocketed. The 2011 broadcast generated 965,000 comments across Facebook and Twitter. Last year that number jumped to almost 3.8 million social mentions.
So the ingredients for success are there, with strong sales, a positive ratings trend, and a social strategy to reel in wayward viewers who stray from the TV screen. Now if MacFarlane can avoid a debacle like David Letterman’s “Oprah…Uma” fiasco in the 1995 telecast, ABC and the Academy should make out just fine.