Oscars Continue Ratings Surge for Big Events; Next Come Higher Ad Rates

Last Updated Mar 8, 2010 5:30 PM EST

Even with a temporary blackout in the New York area due to the Cablevision dispute, last night's Oscar ratings were the highest in five years. All told, 41.3 million people watched the telecast, up 11.6 percent from last year and up 30 percent from 2008, when the show had its lowest audience ever, of only 31.8 million people.

The higher ratings build on a trend that's been going on for about a year now. As mentioned in BNET Media early last month -- and before the Olympics emphasized the trend -- social media seems to be the straw that is stirring the broadcast drink. Why? Because it is heightening interest in big TV events both before, and as they happen. When the final Olympics tally was in, it showed the second largest U.S. Olympic audience ever at 190 million, beaten only by the Lillehammer Olympics of 1994, which, as you might recall, was noteworthy not because of who won medals but because of the face-off between figure skaters Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding.

What doesn't seem to have happened, yet, is a surge in prices for ad time to big events to accompany the ratings surge. Yes, ad time for these events is selling well, but that's mostly attributable to advertiser belief that the economy is rebounding. For instance, ABC sold out last night's show, at rates of about $1.4 million-$1.5 million per spot, up 7.5 percent compared to last year. But that looks like a bargain in light of how well the show did. While ratings and ad prices don't rise and fall in lockstep, expect ABC -- and other broadcasters of big events -- to factor in the social media effect going forward, asking for major rate increases based on recent ratings for big TV events.