Oscars: Academy Report Reveals $5.5 Million Plan to Boost TV Ratings

NPH Oscar Promo - H 2015
Courtesy of ABC

NPH Oscar Promo - H 2015

With host Neil Patrick Harris lagging behind Ellen DeGeneres on social media and "art films" as contenders, a report obtained by THR shows a cable-centric promo strategy

This story first appeared in the Jan. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Last year's Oscar show set a daunting bar: 45 million viewers, the most watched nonsports telecast since Friends' finale in 2004, and a 12.9 rating among adults 18-to-49. Now, as producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan try to replicate those numbers for the Feb. 22 broadcast, the Academy is formulating a plan.

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The nonprofit organization will allocate about $5.5 million toward off-network media buys to help drive viewers to the show, according to a report prepared by Haworth Marketing + Media, a copy of which was obtained by THR. While ABC is shouldering the bulk of the promo effort through ads on its network and websites, a separate media strategy, to which ABC contributes about $1 million, is being developed by the Academy to cover cable, satellite and radio buys as well as social media, YouTube and mobile placements. The first promos featuring host Neil Patrick Harris began rolling out over the holidays.

The blitz is designed to overcome potential threats to this year's ratings. "Predicted nominations focus on art films rather than major blockbusters that have mass appeal," reads the Dec. 18 report by Haworth, which has worked with the Academy for three years. The report further warns that "counterprogramming may be a challenge," since the Oscars will air against AMC's The Walking Dead, PBS' Downton Abbey and HBO's Girls.

The Academy declined comment on the plan, which assumes the total media budget will remain flat from last year. The report sets as a goal attracting the same number of viewers that tuned in for Ellen DeGeneres as host (though Academy sources say it is hoping to grow viewership). Last year's show got a boost by leveraging DeGeneres' fan base and daily talk show platform. But while Harris is no slouch on social media, his 12.6 million Twitter followers pale next to her 37.2 million. To strengthen its reach, Haworth proposes the Academy increase its social media buy this year by 82 percent to slightly more than $500,000.

By far the biggest chunk of cash — more than $2.9 million — will be spent on cable TV during the week before the Oscars. About $210,000 will go to such satellite providers as DirecTV and Dish, while $315,000 will be spent on social media. And during the show, the action will shift to social, with $73,000 allocated to Facebook and Twitter and $37,000 to Instagram. Not that the Academy is forsaking old-school media: Two billboards at Hollywood & Highland are booked for a cool $67,000.