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ABC's Oscars Ad Battle

ABC could see a 21% drop in total ad revenue from the Academy Awards compared to last year, according to a new report from TNS Media Intelligence. The network is being forced to battle marketers' cost-cutting due to the poor economy, coupled with negative media coverage of some companies' marketing involvement with the recent Super Bowl [see editorial, p. 22].

Last year, ABC bagged an estimated $81 million in advertising revenue, with a 30-second spot costing $1.68 million, according to TNS. This year, total revenue is more likely to be in the region of $67 million, predicts TNS senior VP of research Jon Swallen, with marketers paying anywhere from $1.4 million to $1.7 million, depending on placement of their ads and category exclusivity.

“The outlook for the 2009 broadcast is anything but golden,” said TNS in an Academy Awards-related press release. The awards will be held on Feb. 22 and will be hosted by actor Hugh Jackman.

Movie advertisers are joining the broadcast for the first time, though Swallen says he doesn't believe that would have much overall impact on ad revenue given the long list of Academy restrictions: “It's unlikely we'll see more than two minutes of advertising or, at most, four films.”

He explains that to avoid even the appearance of conflict, movie advertisers can't promote films that will open before April and will only be allowed to promote one movie per studio. They must also air unique creative and not feature any of the current crop of nominees.

About 32 million people watched the Oscars last year, down from 38 million in 2007 and 45.7 million viewers 10 years earlier. “I would expect a marginal improvement over [last year],” Swallen says of the 2009 telecast.

But because viewership gains are usually dictated by nominated films with widespread popularity, this year's group may not be much help. Among the nominees in top categories are indie movies such as The Reader, The Wrestler, Frost/Nixon and Milk.

Still, both NBC's Super Bowl and CBS's Grammy broadcasts performed much better than expected, suggesting that viewers might enjoy a few hours of Brangelina-watching as a respite from the ongoing gloom and doom elsewhere.

But Brad Adgate, research chief at advertising agency Horizon Media, says he'd be surprised if there were a huge groundswell of interest in the Oscars this year. “Younger viewers are not as interested as older viewers,” he says, adding a positive note that with the DTV transition postponed, ABC won't have to grapple with ratings problems related to the analog switch-off.

ABC executives declined to comment for this story.