Oscar Commercials Sold Out at ABC Despite Ratings Outlook

ABC’s Oscar telecast may not draw as many viewers as it has in the past, but it will still air a full suite of commercials.

The network has sold out all of its available advertising inventory for the annual awards event, Jerry Daniello, senior vice president, entertainment brand solutions, for Disney Advertising Sales, said in an interview. The company finalized its sales earlier this week, he said. ABC’s broadcast of the Oscars in 2020 generated approximately $129 million, according to ad-spending tracker Kantar, while the network’s red carpet pre-show attracted around $21 million.

Continued demand for the program shows that Madison Avenue remains interested in TV’s top draws, even as viewership around them changes. More consumers are using streaming-video hubs to get their favorite programs, but events like the Oscars, Grammys and Super Bowl continue to lure the mass audience that advertisers still crave. Last year’s Oscars broadcast lured an average of 23.6 million viewers — a new low, but still more than most of the medium’s primetime dramas and comedies.

With those dynamics at play, coronavirus created new hurdles. “One of the challenges was just what was the show going to look like this year,” said Daniello. “We really rolled our sleeves up.”

Most awards programs have steadily lost viewership over the years, but the coronavirus pandemic has crimped one of their most appealing elements: the chance to see celebrities, live and part of a larger assemblage. A decision to bump the Oscars telecast to April from its usual February roost helped the sales process, Daniello said. “That gave more time for clients to work on their creative and gave them more time to show up the way they wanted to show up,” he said. His team stayed in close contact with this year’s producers, which include Steven Soderbergh, Stacey Sher and Jesse Collins, and once they committed to having some sort of live gathering on the telecast, he said, “that’s when things started bubbling up.”

Google, General Motors, Rolex and Verizon will be among the show’s top sponsors. Other advertisers will include AARP, Accenture, Adidas International, Airbnb, Apartments.com, Apple, Corona, Credit Karma, Disney Plus, Eli Lilly, Expedia, FreshPet, FX, Grey Goose, GSK, Honda, Kellogg, Keurig, Mars, Procter & Gamble,,Power to the Patient, Searchlight, Subway, Walt Disney Studios and Warner Bros.

ABC has been seeking around $2 million for a 30-second ad slot, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Disney worked with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to find new ways to weave advertisers into the extravaganza. Google, for example, will sponsor not only access to closed-captioning for viewers who are hearing impaired, but audio descriptions for the live telecast for viewers who are blind or visually impaired. During the show, Google will run an ad that features the story of Google employee Tony Lee, a child of deaf parents who uses the company’s products like Live Transcribe, Captions in Google Meet and Live Caption to communicate with family.  Viewers will be made aware of the options by messages that appear at certain points during the broadcast on the bottom of the screen, said Daniello.

“Google is committed to making the world a more accessible place by working to ensure disabled people are represented in the work we do, the stories we tell and the products we build,” said KR Liu, Google’s head of brand accessibility, in a statement. “We are excited to do our part in making this year’s Oscars even more accessible by helping to make both audio descriptions and captions available.”

Verizon will also use the Oscars broadcast to make fans aware of extras. The company has set up “5G portals” that will let viewers see the action taking place backstage at the event, including celebrities talking to the press and a station where winners can have their name engraved on their statue.

Other advertisers will use the event to draw attention to new ventures. Travel-planning site Expedia will launch a new commercial aimed at getting people ready to travel again as the pandemic subsides. General Motors’ Cadillac will highlight its Lyriq, its first electric crossover vehicle.

Disney used the Oscars to target local advertising as well, luring Mercedes-Benz, Swarovski, Resorts World, Spectrum and Virgin Hotels, among others, to a stream of the event available on Hulu subscribers who use its live service.

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