Oscar 2008: To Have or Not to Have Movie Ads during Oscar Telecast

Oct 9, 2008–The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) board of governors voted Tuesday to ease its ban on movie advertisements during the Oscar telecast.

The board voted to allow a limited number of spots for movies that will not open until the last week of April at the earliest, meaning that none of the nominated pictures can be advertised during the telecast. Ads for sequels or prequels to movies in contention in the picture, docu and animation categories will not be allowed.

AMPAS had banned movie advertising ever since the Oscars were first televised in 1953 in an effort to avoid any link to studio money influencing the outcome of the awards.

The Academy’s move could also be a step toward adding a wider appeal to the telecast following recent criticism that the awards have focused on indies and specialized fare.

The showcase of spots for next year¬ís tentpoles like “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” “G.I. Joe” and “Terminator Salvation,” could be a highly promotable element for next year¬ís telecast, as the Oscars are looking to rebound from this year¬ís record-low audience of only 32 million viewers.

Next year¬ís telecast is set for February 22, 2009 on ABC. The “Dreamgirls” team of Bill Condon and Laurence Mark have been tapped as first-time Oscarcast producers.

Among the Academy’s other rules for accepting movie ads:

AMPAS will allow one spot per distributor, either 30 or 60 seconds in length. The spot must not have run anywhere else prior to its debut on the Oscarcast. The spot may not use the terms “Oscar” or “Academy Award.” The spot may only promote one picture, not a slate of pictures. There will only be one movie spot per commercial break during the three-hour telecast.

Despite this year’s weak ratings, which marked a 20% decline from 2007, the inclusion of movie advertisers could well juice the spot price that ABC can command for the show, although a good portion of the inventory has already been spoken for.

This year¬ís telecast garnered an average fee of about $1.8 million per 30-second spot. The Oscars are less vulnerable to ratings than other programs–they still qualify as an “event” on par with the Super Bowl.

General Motors still made headlines earlier this year when it confirmed that it would pull out of its position as the show’s exclusive auto advertiser.

The pricing and placement of the spots will be key, but overall, the Academy’s move was applauded.

An ABC spokeswoman said the network was pleased with the decision, calling it an example of the Acad “evolving the Oscars and finding inventive new ways to celebrate the medium.”

AMPAS president Sid Ganis said the board has considered the question of movie ads in the Oscarcast for some time. At a previous board meeting, the governors decided to assemble a committee to study the issue; that committee made its recommendations to the board on Tuesday night. Ganis would not disclose the vote tally other than to say that after the committee made its recommendation, “The gang was all for it.

“We had a good, solid, intelligent discussion among board members from every branch of the Academy,” he said. “And we decided we should certainly give it a try, and hopefully, with good, solid ground rules, it¬íll work just fine.”