Oscarcast's ad inventory nearly sold out

ABC writing deals at $1.4 mil-$1.5 mil per 30-second spot

With less than a week to go before Hollywood fetes itself with the red carpet and gold statuettes, ABC's ad sales team has cause to throw a celebration of its own as the network's broadcast of the 82nd Annual Academy Awards is all but sold out.

According to media buyer estimates, ABC heads into its 35th consecutive Oscarcast with two or three remaining avails, as a sturdy roster of returning sponsors and an improving economy have taken some of the grunt work out of the sales process.

The three top spenders of a year ago -- Hyundai, Coca-Cola and JCPenney -- are back in the limelight, reversing a microtrend that saw perennial high rollers General Motors and L'Oreal drop out.

Pricing for time on the telecast is trending higher than last year's event, when the recession put the bite on ABC's ad rates. According to Kantar Media estimates, the broadcaster commanded an average price of $1.31 million per 30-second spot in 2009, a drop of 23% compared with the prior-year figure ($1.69 million). This time, ABC has written deals at $1.4 million-$1.5 million per spot, according to media buyers.

Hyundai motors into Sunday's broadcast as the exclusive automotive sponsor, buying seven ads that will air during the program and one during the preshow. It's a return engagement for the Korean automaker, which in 2009 signed a three-year option with ABC that grants it the right of first refusal.

Along with securing the greatest chunk of airtime in this year's Oscars broadcast, Hyundai also might boast the most interesting backstory. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences effectively prohibits sponsors from running in-show creative featuring any of the night's nominees or presenters, which put Hyundai in a bit of a pickle. Jeff Bridges, who has been the carmaker's voice-over talent for the past three years, also happens to the front-runner for the best actor trophy.

In order to comply with the Academy's criteria, Hyundai shot seven spots with other A-list talent. Bridges suggested a shortlist of colleagues, and Hyundai recently finished recording the final ad, with an assist from Kim Basinger. Other stars filling in for Bridges are Richard Dreyfuss and Martin Sheen.

"Our presence in the Academy Awards continues our 'Big Voices in Big Places' mantra," said Chris Perry, Hyundai's director of marketing communications. "We started with the Super Bowl, we're back for our second Oscars, and you're going to see a lot of us in the World Cup."

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Also back for an encore is Coca-Cola, which has been the exclusive beverage sponsor of the Academy Awards since 2006. The soft drink giant is paring its screen time from a year ago, buying two minutes and 30 seconds of inventory, versus four minutes in the 2009 show.

Retailer JCPenney made the third-largest investment in last year's Oscars, spending an estimated $9.2 million on seven 30-second spots. This year, the company has snapped up six minutes of airtime, including a spot for its Cindy Crawford home furnishings line.

"The Academy Awards are all about what's culturally relevant, what's in style, so it's a very proper place for us to launch our whole spring style message," he said.

ABC last year soldiered on without a major beauty brand, as L'Oreal Paris bowed out four months before the telecast, taking with it about $11.8 million in ad dollars. The category continues to be underrepresented in 2010, as L'Oreal remains a no-show.

Microsoft and McDonald's will hit the red carpet again, and '09 newbie Sprint is prepping a sequel. Other confirmed clients include Ameriprise Financial, Kimberly-Clark, Samsung Electronics and Hershey's. At least three film studios are in the mix.

If recent trends are anything to go by -- Super Bowl XLIV was the most-watched TV program in history, and the Grammys and Golden Globes posted significant ratings gains -- Sunday's show should outdeliver last year's (36.9 million viewers, the third-lowest turnout in Oscars history). Although guarantees vary by client, ABC expects to deliver an 11-12 rating among adults 18-49.

"It's been quite a remarkable run," said Todd Gordon, senior vp-director of national broadcast at Interpublic's Initiative. "Big-event TV still resonates with viewers because it provides a shared community experience that is increasingly harder to find anywhere else."

Anthony Crupi and Steve McClellan are reporters for Adweek.
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