REPORT: Advertisers Expecting So Few Oscar Viewers, They're Demanding Money-Back Guarantees

A report in the Hollywood news outlet Deadline claims that advertisers who have purchased slots during the Academy Awards are so concerned about audience numbers for Sunday night's broadcast that they're asking for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which puts on the show, to issue ratings thresholds guarantees.

The Academy is at the end of a year-long, failed effort to "update" the Oscars, which reportedly involved finding a more "relevant" host, adding new elements to the Oscars ceremony, potentially shortening the broadcast, and delivering some of the "less-interesting" awards during commercial breaks so as to focus the broadcast on awards the audience really wants to see.

Every effort was met with abject disaster. After failing to secure Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson for the host slot, the Academy hired Kevin Hart, who was immediately discovered to have tweeted some "anti-gay" opinions years ago, making him the subject of Hollywood social justice scorn, which eventually forced him to withdraw from the gig. After unsuccessfully trying to woo him back using former Oscars host Ellen DeGeneres, the Oscars were forced to admit they could not find a host, leaving them without a big name draw on the marquee.

When the Academy tried to "hide" some awards for editing, cinematography, and live-action short film in the broadcast's commercial breaks, members of the Academy objected, forcing the Academy to re-extend the broadcast to include the "boring" awards.

An effort to award an "audience favorite" movie with an Oscar also hit the skids rather quickly.

Oscars viewership has been declining by double digit percentages for close to a decade, but until now, after the failed public efforts to reverse that drop, advertisers failed to take much notice, assuming that the broadcast, which still draws more than 20 million viewers, was worth the investment. It's incredibly rare for advertisers to demand any audience thresholds for live events like the Oscars or the Super Bowl, even when they don't do well.

According to Deadline, though, the parade of embarrassing issues dogging the Oscars broadcast has forced ABC, which airs the ceremony, to guarantee a "baseline" of viewers to advertisers, which could result in ABC having to give money back if advertiser expectations aren't met.

“The Oscars are still a very big deal, but people aren’t stupid, and year after year of declining ratings are getting us to a danger zone,” a source told the Hollywood mag. “We are right on the edge of that danger zone — not close, but on it — and that makes advertisers very nervous."

Fortunately for the Oscars, those audience thresholds are still pretty low, and they're expected to clear them, even though far fewer people are expected to tune in Sunday night than in years before, according to an executive who spoke to Deadline.

It’s very unlikely that things will fall so radically this year that they’ll drop beneath those thresholds, but the fact is that there finally had to be such guarantees was a wake-up call to everyone,” the source said, adding that ABC is now motivated to make changes in the Oscars broadcast after dropping $85 million into a multi-year contract to air the show. The network has sold around $145 million in ads.

The Oscars air at 7 p.m. EST on ABC. The show is expected to run for at least three hours.


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