Oscarcast golden for advertisers

Total spending, 30-second rates increasing; buyers remain loyal

The Academy Awards are not only a big spectacle for the Hollywood crowd but also for Madison Avenue.

According to a new report from research firm TNS Media Intelligence, annual advertising spending during the Oscar broadcast has more than doubled during the past 12 years to more than $80 million in 2006, but the ad field is less cluttered than during other big events, making it "one of the premier television events for advertisers."

The cost for a 30-second ad spot also has been on the rise since 1995, when marketers had to shell out $700,000 on average and overall Oscar ad spending was $30.1 million, TNS said.

Last year, the figures climbed to nearly $1.65 million and $80.7 million, respectively, the firm's data shows. That means total ad revenue is up 168% since 1995 and 28% alone during the past five years of available data.

That is despite ratings that have been up and down in recent years. Last year's telecast, hosted by Jon Stewart, averaged 38.8 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. That was lower than the Chris Rock-hosted 2005 Academy Awards that averaged 41.5 million but not as low as the 33 million for the 2003 Oscars. But what attracts advertisers is not just the raw number — the Academy Awards still draw a lot of viewers — but also the upscale ratings among viewers with incomes of more than $100,000.

The average 30-second spot price only dipped once during the 1995-2006 period, when it fell from $1.45 million in 2001 to $1.29 million in 2002 following the dot-com bust and the Sept. 11 attacks. This year, the average 30-second spot on the ABC telecast costs about $1.7 million, up 5% from last year, sources said.

Total Oscar ad spending decreased once as well — from $78.2 million in 2004 to $72.1 million in 2005 when ad rates remained stable at $1.5 million, according to TNS.

The top five Academy Awards advertisers during the 12-year period are big blue-chip firms — General Motors Corp., American Express Co., Pepsico Inc., JC Penney Co. and McDonald's, TNS data shows.

These top five invested more than $310 million in Academy Awards advertising from 1995-2006, accounting for 47% of total network ad spending on the show, TNS found.

The telecast's marketers also are loyal — more so than advertisers of other big TV events. TNS found that 77% of the ad dollars spent on the Oscars during the 12-year period have come from companies that bought ad time the previous year. "This is an exceptionally high retention rate compared to other marquee TV events," TNS said, with the World Series retention rate at 67% and the Super Bowl at 62%.

"Interestingly, the one advertising category that is conspicuously absent from the program is motion picture advertising," even though the Oscars could be seen as "a natural venue" for film trailers, TNS said. However, the research firm said a mandate by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences restricts all movie advertising from the Oscar program.

"The Academy Awards offers one of the least-cluttered environments for TV advertising messages," the research firm said. Viewers have been exposed to about 11-12 minutes of ads per hour during the Academy Awards shows since 2003, compared with 13-14 minutes for the Super Bowl and about 18 minutes for a typical primetime network TV hour, TNS data found.

Despite the Oscars' move to late February a few years ago and the resulting proximity to the biggest football game of the year, TNS said there is "significant overlap" between advertisers on both shows — about a third. Between 2002-05, the percentage ranged from 26.1%-39.1%, with last year's 13.6% figure being unusual because "the Winter Olympics provided a third blue-ribbon event for marketers during February," TNS says. "Several major advertisers who perennially support both the Super Bowl and the Oscars opted out of one of these events."

Between 41%-57% of Oscar marketers aired two or more spots during the broadcast since 2002, outpacing the Super Bowl, which boasts a 23%-42% range compared with the same period, TNS found.

Sunday's 79th Annual Academy Awards air live on ABC at 8 p.m. EST/5 p.m. PST from the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland.

Paul J. Gough contributed to this report.