Verizon Aims to Give Oscars Viewers Virtual Backstage Access (EXCLUSIVE)

Brian Steinberg
·4-min read

During a year when the TV industry is worried about how many viewers will return to watch ABC’s annual Oscars broadcast, Verizon will definitely return to advertise during it.

The telecommunications giant will sponsor the ceremony for the fourth consecutive year, and not just with TV commercials. Verizon will make available three different “5G portals” that viewers can seek out via social media and their mobile devices that will give them behind-the-scenes access to the red carpet; the press area where winners and presenters talk to the media; and, for a smaller set, an engraving station where winners get to put their name on their award.

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“This is something that viewers usually don’t see,” said Andrew McKechnie, senior vice president and chief creative officer at Verizon, in an interview. “Viewers are going to be able to portal into that and they won’t miss a single moment.”

Keeping Verizon connected to the big awards program is a significant accomplishment for ABC, which counts on its rights to telecast the Oscars each year to draw top revenue. The Oscars is typically one of the biggest and most-watched events of the TV season, and drew close to $129.2 million in advertising last year, according to Kantar, a tracker of ad spending. Verizon has been one of the show’s biggest sponsors for the last two years, Kantar said, spending $12.9 million on the telecast last year and $12 million in 2019.

ABC has sought around $2 million for a 30-second ad this year, according to people familiar with the matter. The Disney-owned network typically looks for prices ranging from $1.8 million to $2.2 million or higher for Oscar commercials.

The eye-popping prices persist even though ratings for the movie extravaganza have been in decline for several years — along with those for many of TV’s top awards programs. CBS’ recent broadcast of the Grammys notched just 8.8 million viewers, the smallest audience on record for the telecast and a tumble of 53% from the 18.7 million who watched in 2020. NBC’s broadcast of the Golden Globes appealed to only 6.9 million viewers, another record low that was 63% less than what the event fetched in the year prior. ABC’s broadcast of the Emmys in September also marked a nadir for audience levels. The show fetched just 6.1 million viewers, down about 12% from 2019.

Organizers from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences are working to create an event that gives viewers their fix of glamour and celebrity, even if pandemic regulations will keep some elements out of the mix. “The broadcast is going to be different this year. All of the broadcasts over the past 12 months have been very different because of the pandemic,” said McKechnie. “But it’s still something we think it impactful and an important night to show up on.”

The executive believes the show’s audience remains sizable and interested in new commercials with something new to say. “It’s one of those moments in time that people are engaged with the content and the idea of great storytelling.”

In five ads that run during the broadcast, Verizon will offer first-hand accounts of people who relied on its service during the pandemic. In one spot, a young boy with muscular dystrophy tells viewers how Verizon helped him enjoy a virtual summer camp when the physical program had to be canceled. In another, a firefighter discusses how the company’s services helped him stay in contact with his wife, a physician’s assistant, as she tried to help doctors take care of coronavirus patients.

Verizon will air two other ads in ABC’s pre-event coverage and a seventh piece Friday through Sunday on TV and in social media.

Links to the Oscar-night video portals will be available via Verizon’s Twitter and Instagram feeds as well as through QR codes that will appear during the ABC telecast. Telling stories via TV commercials works, said McKechnie, but sending consumers to an actual experience can help show off a new product — the company’s 5G service — in a very memorable way.

Verizon has offered similar views of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade thanks to an alliance with NBC. The company spent months working with AMPAS and ABC to figure out how to get consumers a look at something new, said McKechine. “Brands and broadcasters are being asked to bring more to the table in terms of what we offer,” he said.

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