- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 1, 2006

The Academy Awards may not get as big an audience as the Super Bowl does, but advertisers line up months in advance and pay big bucks to reach its predominantly female audience.

Of the 42.1 million viewers who watched last year’s show, about 24.5 million were women age 18 or older, compared with 14.1 million men in the same age range, according to Nielsen Media Research. Those numbers were almost identical for the 2004 awards.

“It’s the second Super Bowl,” said Peter Sheldon, professor of advertising at the University of Illinois in Urbana. “It’s an event people look forward to. [Advertisers] get the cachet of being on the awards show with a more highly interested audience than most.”

General Motors Corp. has bought ads for 17 straight years and is the exclusive automotive sponsor for Sunday’s telecast on ABC. GM thinks viewers want to watch the awards as they happen — even in the age of Tivo, said Ryndee Carney, GM’s manager of advertising and marketing communications.

“It’s one of the events people tend to watch live as opposed to using recording devices or Tivo, so they can talk about it the next morning,” Ms. Carney said.

Advertisers are shelling out an estimated $1.7 million for a 30-second ad this year, up from $1.6 million last year. More than 90 percent of Oscar advertisers bought their spots last summer.

Advertising slots for the event sold out weeks in advance, unlike the Super Bowl, where ad space was available days before the game. The football championship this year days before the game. The football championship this year drew an audience of more than 140 million and charged about $2.5 million for a 30-second spot.

Last year’s Oscar telecast included 48 commercials. A similar number is expected this year, and more than half of them will be new.

Incumbents like GM are given first shot at returning to the telecast each year, and a majority do return. Mr. Sheldon said that is hardly surprising, considering advertisers now use TV commercials to help drive the show’s largely female audience to their Web sites.

Mr. Sheldon acknowledged that the Oscars are often compared to the Super Bowl, but he said viewers do not tune in to see Academy Awards commercials in the same way they do for ads during the game.

“It’s the bathroom factor: ‘Here comes the ads, let’s go,’ ” Mr. Sheldon said.

Geri Wang, senior vice president of prime-time sales for ABC, said the Academy Awards telecast never has a problem drawing advertisers because the show often take chances on new hosts, such as “Daily Show” anchor Jon Stewart this year, and delivers dedicated viewers.

“It’s a nice position to be in, partnered with the academy, and its willingness to have a fresh new voice is very exciting for us from a sales point of view,” she said.

Miller Brewing Co. is an Oscar newcomer and will use the show as the platform for three ads to introduce a new campaign for Miller Genuine Draft, said Scott Bussen, spokesman for the Milwaukee, Wis., company. The brand’s new slogan is: “Beer. Grown Up.”

“There’s not a better vehicle for us in terms of launching the new position because it’s all about our new brand and our consumers coming of age … crossing the line to something better in their lives,” like Oscar winners will, Mr. Bussen said.

L’Oreal USA Inc. will be back at the Oscars for its second year as the show’s exclusive cosmetics and hair care sponsor. The New York company ran five ads last year and plans eight for Sunday, continuing its campaigns for “High Intensity Pigments” and “Natural Match” hair coloring that debuted during the Golden Globes Awards in January.

Oscar ads aren’t likely to draw the ire of decency watchdogs. All of them must be approved by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as well as ABC’s Standards and Practices Department. ABC, like the other networks, does not accept advocacy advertising, and content has not been an issue with Oscar commercials as it has with Super Bowl ads.

ABC is promoting this year’s show through a variety of print, TV and Internet campaigns, as well as on-site promotions that take months to plan. GM, for example, is hosting a pre-Oscar party and will deploy a fleet of 53 Cadillacs to ferry celebrities and other VIPs to the show, Ms. Carney said.

“It’s really about the brand equity we’ve been able to establish with our clients and the academy,” Ms. Wang said. “We’ve really established a long-term association utilizing the franchise … [that] speaks to the totality of the event,” not just one actor or movie.

Audience numbers from Nielsen suggest that the Oscars benefit from a smash hit film. The show has drawn more than 40 million viewers each of the past two years, but 55 million people watched in 1998 to see “Titanic” win the award for best picture, the largest audience since 1983.

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