by Walter Brasch
The last segment on every Friday’s broadcast of ABC-TV’s “World News,” with Diane Sawyer, is a “Person of the Week.”
Usually, those persons have gone out of their way to do something good for people, or have lived a long and distinguished life, or by their example give inspiration to others.
Recent “persons of the week” have included a very special caregiver, a wheelchair-bound teen who does wheelchair tricks, and a homeless man who returned $3,300 he had found.
However, this past Friday, the “Persons of the Week” were two actors. There’s nothing wrong with honoring actors and others in the creative arts. They bring us joy and, often, intellectual stimulation. But, the reason ABC News honored Anne Hathaway and James Franco had little to do with acting-and everything to do with advertising.
ABC is broadcasting the Oscars, Sunday, and Hathaway and Franco are the hosts. To justify their inclusion, Sawyer led off the segment by telling us: “The torch will be passed to a new generation. The baby boomers no longer hosting the Oscars.”
But, for two and a half minutes, we learned about Hathaway and Franco, and not the story of a change in the Industry. We even learned about what each would like to know about the other.
In television, ratings, mixed with some demographic analyses, determine the price of advertising. The range for 30 second ads for scripted prime time shows is about $50,000-$250,000. For the Super Bowl, with the largest audience, 30-second ads this year went for about $3 million. ABC, which sold all ad time for the primetime Oscars telecast, charged about $1.7 million for 30 seconds advertising. ABC pays about $65 million to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the broadcast rights. The Disney-owned company expects about $80 million revenue and is hoping for at least 43 million viewers for the telecast. And that doesn’t include the advertising for the pre-Oscar “red carpet” show, or the on-air promotions for Disney-owned productions.
By Industry standards, if the ratings tank, ABC would have an obligation to return money to advertisers, something it definitely doesn’t want to do.
So, in addition to running numerous Oscar-related commercials during ad time in the two weeks leading to the Sunday night broadcast, ABC-TV made its “Person of the Week” nothing more than another Oscar promotion to guarantee the network a strong “return on investment.”
That decision alone damages a news operation’s credibility.
[Assisting on this column was Rosemary Brasch. Walter Brasch is a journalist/columnist, the author of 16 books, including Sex and the Single Beer Can: Probing the Media and American Culture (3rd ed.). He is a retired professor of mass communications and journalism. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org]