Super Bowl: Disney Seeking Last-Minute Ad Buy

Super Bowl Ads - H 2014

Super Bowl Ads - H 2014

Only three studios are shelling out a record $4 million per 30-second spot during the big game

This story first appeared in the Jan. 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

In November, Fox announced that ad inventory for Super Bowl XLVIII had sold out at an average of more than $4 million for a 30-second commercial. That's a record, generating an estimated $292 million for the network from the Feb. 2 game, according to Kantar Media.

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But less than two weeks before the matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos, Disney -- after committing to a Super Bowl ad in the fall -- is said to be shopping for additional spots, possibly taking two or three spaces as other advertisers drop out. As a last-minute shopper, the studio faces prices approaching $4.4 million, sources tell THR.

Hollywood studios consider Super Bowl ads trade secrets, so nobody is talking about their plans. But sources say Disney spots likely will promote the Aaron Paul actioner Need for Speed (opening March 14 from DreamWorks), as well as Marvel's Captain America: The Winter Soldier (April 4) and/or Guardians of the Galaxy (Aug. 1).

Disney is one of three studios committed to ads during the big game. Paramount will air a single spot for Michael Bay's Transformers: Age of Extinction (June 27), and Sony has created one for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (May 2). Lionsgate has a spot during the pregame show for its Kevin Costner drama Draft Day (April 11), appropriately set within the NFL.

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Super Bowl ads are by far the most expensive buy on TV, but they deliver a big DVR-proof bang for the buck. Last year's game was watched by 108.7 million U.S. viewers, down slightly from the 2012 and 2011 games but still the third-most-viewed broadcast to date. The ads are a great way to build awareness, but they don't guarantee success: Consider that John Carter, Battleship and The Lone Ranger aired Super Bowl spots before becoming huge flops.

But building awareness is only part of the motivation. "It's a bit of an ego thing," says Brad Adgate, senior vp research at Horizon Media. "It lets producers, stars and directors know that the studio is supporting the movie. You can't get bigger promotion than the Super Bowl."

Still, Hollywood is buying slightly fewer spots this year. While five companies advertised 12 movies as recently as 2011, only three will run a total of five or six spots this year. In 2013, four studios bought seven ads. Studio sources say the dip has to do with rising prices (more than $133,000 a second) and hesitation to commit in November as to what to promote in February.

In addition, while movie ads aren't expensive to make, they tend to be overshadowed by carefully crafted spots from the likes of Coca-Cola and Volkswagen. Since USA Today created its ad meter in 1989, a movie spot has not topped the rankings. Notes Adgate, "It's one of the few product categories that doesn't have a lot of [new] production costs on the creative."