Disney Paid Itself $10 Million for That Awkward Little Mermaid Oscars Moment

Oscars stalwarts may not have appreciated that “Little Mermaid” trailer-reveal moment from the Academy Awards stage, but ABC’s ad-sales team sure did.

The network pitched all of the movie studios on a sponsored-integration opportunity in which actors associated with their brands could could come out onto the Oscars stage and speak about a project before throwing it to commercial. Only Disney Studios and Warner Bros. took them up on the offer. This was actually the third year of sponsored integrations at the Oscars, which are broadcast annually on ABC.

Disney went the largest, bringing out stars of the upcoming, live-action “Little Mermaid,” Halle Bailey (who plays Ariel) and Melissa McCarthy (Ursula), to intro the film’s official trailer. After their brief time on stage, the Oscars cut to an announced commercial break in the Dolby Theatre (all commercial breaks are announced to allow the audience to stretch their legs, use the bathroom, etc.) and rolled the two-minute, 20-second trailer for viewers at home.

The trailer was not played in the room, which led to a moment of confusion for in-person attendees, multiple Oscar guests told IndieWire for this story. Watch the “Little Mermaid” trailer here.

Later in the program, Morgan Freeman and Margot Robbie took the Dolby stage to introduce the Warner Bros. paid integration, a 90-second celebration of the studio’s 100th anniversary. Readers can watch that one toward the bottom on this story.

On Tuesday, Matt Belloni of Puck reported the commercial buy and integration cost Disney and Warner Bros. “between $7 million and $10 million” apiece. That’s about right for Disney, a person with knowledge of the deal told IndieWire; it’s “way off” for the briefer Warner Bros. spot, an insider there told us.

Halle Bailey as Ariel and Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric in Disney’s live-action “The Little Mermaid”

Courtesy of Disney

It’s basic math, basically. Regular 30-second commercials during the 2023 Oscars sold for between $1.6 million and $2.1 million, an individual with knowledge of the sales told IndieWire. Each of the integrations sopped up several of those spots. (We’re told the trailer and the WB celebration didn’t actually extend the Oscars telecast — at least not its commercial time. The stage time was basically tossed in as a free incentive to gobble up multiple consecutive slots, we’re told.)

For Disney Studios, “The Little Mermaid” utilized five 30-second slots at what we’re told was the higher end of the general ad-inventory’s price range. Add in the premium placement and valuable stage time, and $10 million is totally conceivable. (One might even say “reasonable” when considering how much we remember that moment vs. some random ad for consumer products.)

Still, that’s a lot of money and a big chunk of “Mermaid’s” overall marketing budget. It probably makes it more digestible when you consider the Walt Disney Company owns both the studio behind “The Little Mermaid” and Oscars broadcast network ABC — financial synergy! We’re told by an insider there was no hometown discount given here, however, and the two entities are treated as “church and state.” Actual money actually changed hands, the person said — it wasn’t “funny money” like one outsider suggested — just like with any other advertiser on any program. Either way, the medicine surely goes down a lot easier when sharing a balance sheet.

For its turn, Warner Bros. used three slots, so the simple math would lead us to believe they paid close to that $7 million figure Belloni reported. A second Warner Bros. insider, however, told IndieWire it scored a deal at “meaningfully less than half” of the reported low-end, or that they paid about $3 million. We can’t get the math near there, however, and an outside source called that price tag “inaccurate,” so you decide.

Here’s the Warner Bros. spot:

Either way, advertisers on the show got what they paid for. The 95th Academy Awards scored 18.7 million total viewers, according to Nielsen, up 12 percent from last year to the largest audience for any awards show in three years.

“Everything Everywhere All at Once” won Best Picture and six other awards: Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for writer-director duo Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Best Actress for Michelle Yeoh, Best Supporting Actress for Jamie Lee Curtis, Best Supporting Actor for Ke Huy Quan, and Best Film Editing.

Find the full list of winners here; IndieWire’s review of the 2023 Oscars can be found here.

“The Little Mermaid” premieres May 26 in theaters.

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