Oscars: ABC's Renewed Contract Allows for More Creative Influence

ABC Ben Sherwood and Academy Awards - Split - Getty - H 2016
Amanda Edwards/WireImage; Christopher Polk/Getty Images; ©Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences®

The network, which will keep broadcast rights for the Academy Awards until 2028, has greater input in the choice for the producer and host and plans to address the show's bloated length, sources say.

Three small concessions, one giant leap. 

ABC's new megadeal to broadcast the Oscars through 2028 includes gains in a trio of key areas — creative input, distribution and revenue streams — that are considered victories for the network, considering the Academy's ironclad grip on its biggest night of the year. The ceremony always has been challenging from a programming standpoint, in part because it must serve both industry insiders at the Dolby Theatre and civilians at home.

That's why it's significant that ABC now will have more input on the choice of producer and host, although the Academy retains final say. Sources close to the negotiations tell THR ABC plans to address the show's bloated length.

The 2016 telecast, hosted by Chris Rock and produced by Reginald Hudlin and David Hill, clocked in at 3 hours and 37 minutes and pulled in 34.4 million viewers, the least watched Oscars since the 2008 show hosted by Jon Stewart. Many other awards shows — notably the Grammys on CBS — have managed to strike a balance between entertainment and accolades, although the Academy always has been adamant that all 24 of its categories be presented on air.

Talks began about a year ago, when Academy CEO Dawn Hudson approached ABC about an extension. The new deal also provides for future ways viewers may consume content, much like the networks' NFL pacts do. NBC's recent coverage of the Rio Olympics offers a lesson in the migration of eyeballs to digital; the network had to offer make-goods to advertisers after TV viewership fell 9 percent.

To that end, ABC earned some latitude in product placement and integration, which will become a more significant source of revenue as technology allows viewers to bypass ads. Last year, 30-second spots on the Oscars went for about $2 million, bringing ABC's ad haul to more than $120 million (it was paying a $75 million annual license fee, which is said to remain about the same). In 2008, amid a soft ad market, the Academy voted to lift a 50-plus-year ban on studio spots.

Paid product placement — tastefully done, of course — may be the next frontier. As Disney/ABC Television Group president Ben Sherwood said, "We look forward to teaming with the Academy to bring Oscar Sunday to even greater creative heights." 

This story first appeared in the Sept. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.