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ABC sells out advertisements for Oscar telecast at near-record prices

February 10, 2011 | 12:48 pm

OSCAR

After two years of struggling to maintain pricing, sales of commercial time for this month's Academy Awards telecast have rebounded sharply, with ABC fetching prices at near-record rates.

The network confirmed Thursday that it has sold out its available inventory in the glittery Feb. 27 award show. The network is fetching about $1.7 million per 30-second spot -- a haul that could help the network achieve revenue of more than $80 million for Hollywood's biggest night of the year, according to advertising insiders.

"If ABC does reach that level of $1.7 million per spot, it would be the high water mark," said Jon Swallen, senior vice president for research at Kantar Media, which tracks advertising spending.  "They've never quite reached an average price of $1.7 million before."

Total revenue for last year's telecast was $70 million, Swallen said. ABC collected about $1.3 million to $1.5 million per spot in 2009 and 2010.

If the award show pulls in $80 million this year, it would be a huge relief to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which relies heavily on the television money to finance its annual operations and stage the Academy Awards.

Last year's strong ratings for the Oscar telecast have helped to fuel sales this year. An average of nearly 42 million people viewed the program last year, producing Oscar's largest audience in five years.

Advertisers including JC Penney, AT&T, Coke, Sprint, Procter & Gamble, Hyundai, Nokia, Amazon.com, Anheuser-Busch, McDonald's and Best Buy have bought spots in this year's telecast, according to ABC.

"They ordinarily don't have trouble selling this event. There is always pretty strong demand," Swallen said. Advertisers like the upscale audience that typically tunes into the program. In addition, live events have been generating higher ratings because people watch them in real time.

Revenue for the Oscar telecast plummeted two years ago during the recession when the advertising market was soft. "Revenue really fell off during the last two years because of the lower unit pricing," Swallen said.

In 2009, ABC also lost a marquee sponsor, General Motors, which had consistently been one of the biggest spenders in the program. Hyundai stepped in, and it continues to be the exclusive auto advertiser in the Academy Awards.

The advertising market has improved dramatically in the last year. Also helping to drive pricing is the relatively lower number of commercial spots available during the show. The academy limits the amount of time devoted to commercials to eight to 10 minutes per hour, Swallen said, and that includes promotional spots for ABC's other programming.  In contrast, a typical prime-time hour contains 16 to 17 minutes of commercial time. 

For the Oscars, "that's 40% to 50% less than what you have in a normal hour of prime-time," Swallen said.

ABC also said it had sold all of its available time in the red carpet show that precedes the Oscar telecast.

-- Meg James

Photo: Oscar statue in the Grand Ballroom at the 83rd Academy Awards Governors Ball preview. Credit: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images.

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