Michael Cieply: Oscar Viewership And Other Tidbits From The Academy Bond Documents

You can usually count on bond disclosure documents–assuming good eyesight and infinite patience–for fresh tidbits about the inner workings of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the latest round is no exception.

On Friday morning, the Academy posted on the Electronic Municipal Market Access website a 188-page Official Statement supporting last week’s offering of new bonds with a total face value of $126.7 million.

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While mostly relying on previously disclosed financial data for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2022, the statement dropped some intriguing details about the Oscars and the Academy, including this:

According to Nielsen, the average number of same-day viewers for ABC’s 2023 Oscar telecast rose 12.6% from a year earlier to 18.8 million. That was pretty good. And the number of people who watched the show over a seven-day stretch rose 13.1% to 19.9 million. That was good, too. But the number of “unique viewers,” those who looked in for six minutes or more, rose only 9.7%, to 31.8 million in 2023 from 29 million the year before. So the number of those willing to give the show a shot (probably during the opening monologue) is rebounding from the historic low of 2021–when six minute-plus viewers stood at 21.4 million–at a far lower rate than is the loyal core audience.

That’s from Page 51 of the filing.

On Page 42, we’d already learned that international viewership for the Oscars is much, much lower than the bizarrely inflated 1 billion that was frequently reported by the press in the 1980s. In March of 2023, the real number, says the Academy, was just 17.5 million viewers outside the United States, as reported by the group’s foreign sales partner, Disney’s Buena Vista International unit.

That relatively modest foreign audience would explain the relatively modest fees the Academy expects to collect over the life of its recently extended international television contract—about $79.4 million through 2028, including spillover from 2023. That compares to $745.8 million due from ABC’s domestic broadcast contract over the same years.

So when it comes to Oscar economics, domestic still outweighs foreign by about 9-to-1. It’s not even close.

But that assumes the next show has any economics at all. On Page 21, the Academy dutifully notes that ongoing strikes by Hollywood’s writers and actors could force delay or cancellation or the 2024 Oscar show, with corresponding loss of revenue.

In the cheerless wording of the Official Statement: “The strikes could negatively impact the show or result in the postponement or cancellation of the 2024 Oscar awards show. In addition, the strikes could result in fewer films being available for Oscar consideration either at the 2024 Oscar awards show or at future Oscar awards shows.”

Museum-related fundraising, says the filing, continues apace. But “no assurance can be given that new commitments from additional donors will be obtained or, if obtained, that such commitments will be honored by the committing donors.” Indeed, according the statement, on Page 56, about $104 million, or 27%, of the museum’s $388.4 million in pre-opening pledges has yet to be delivered. The hope is that $69.6 million of that money will come in by June of 2028, and another $31.1 million by 2036. As for the balance, who can say?

For the record, the Academy sets its membership at 10,261 voting members and 10,419 active members as of June 21. That’s on Page 61. Among the branches, actors still have the most voting members, with 1,276, followed by short films and feature animation, with 858, and executives, with 720.

Because the current bonds sold at a premium to face value, the offering plus some other payments due the Academy will yield $142.5 million. That amount, minus $1.1 million in fees, will be used to redeem an equivalent amount of higher interest series 2015A bonds.

Meanwhile, a couple of ‘debt bombs’ still lurk in the payment tables. Principle payments of $98.8 million and $100 million come due, respectively, in 2030 and 2031.

That virtually guarantees refinancing with future bonds, with future disclosure documents, and with more tidbits.

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