The meteoric rise of the award ceremony has followed the trajectory of global media consumption and our fascination with escapism, bling and the Hollywood myth. Actors are now global icons with their significant influence expanding into the realm of role models, brand ambassadors and, for better or worse, social issues advocates. Now more than ever, the A-list superstar is more accessible through social media channels and visible via the perpetual E! News updates and gossip magazines. The A-list are so embedded in our consciousness that they can be recognised by a single name; Brad, George, Angelina. Taking them to heart, the average consumer feels a degree of â€˜ownership` over the celebrity and their success making the Academy Awards a strange mash-up of an election, casino, Shakespearean theatre and a high-school popularity contest.
While we are prone to get caught up in the winners and losers on the red carpet, few remember that the whole event is one big advertisement and is all about business. Your business getting your butt on more seats of more films that you didn`t watch or would love to see again in the theatre or on DVD; after all, you made it a success in the first place!
How does this all work? The AMPAS has approximately 6,000 invitation-only members from the film industry who are invited to vote and sent DVDs of the nominees. The members are only allowed to vote for films that are deemed to be â€˜Eligible Releases`, which includes that they must have screened in a Los Angeles theatre in the preceding calendar year (ie; January 1 December 31). While the AMPAS prohibits the wining and dining of its members for the sake of votes, the studios campaigning tactics vary from the standard plastering of advertisements all over Los Angeles and trade magazines to more overt parties for â€˜friends` and screenings around the time of the Golden Globes (the pre-cursor awards show to the Oscars which often is a good barometer for who will win). Of course, there is no way of telling if the member ever watched the films, so a standard industry joke is that the most consistent voters are the â€˜producers` wives`.
Not surprisingly, one of the most notorious guerilla Academy Award marketers is Harvey Weinstein of Miramax fame. Infamous for his fiery temper and aggressive sales tactics, Weinstein allegedly pulled out all the stops to have The Reader nominated for multiple awards in 2009. In 2002, he spread rumours that the real-life protagonist in A Beautiful Mind was anti-semetic in order to win votes for his film, In The Bedroom. And, he is largely credited with the Hollywood spending phenomena after he dropped US$15m on advertising promoting Shakespeare in Love to blunt Saving Private Ryan in 1999.
So the question remains, is all of this posturing just a matter of ego, or does the saying, â€œWhen Oscar talks, the Box Office listens ring true? According to the Hollywood Reporter, the current batch of nominees (winners/losers by the time you read this), has already noticed the â€˜Oscar bump` with The King`s Speech seeing its US box office rising 66% the day after it was nominated for Best Picture. Keeping with this theme, other nominees such as The Fighter and True Grit took an additional 46% and 41% respectively after their nomination. Further evidence is supplied by an IBISWorld report suggesting that the average Best Picture winner in the last four years has experienced a 22% increase in revenue after being named a nominee and an additional 15% increase with a win.
However, if you scratch the surface a little, many films anticipated to be contending for Oscars are released in December in order to be deemed an â€˜Eligible Release` and then piggy-back off anticipated Oscar-hype to drive their earnings higher than what they might expect in other times of the year.
One study estimates that the average boost for a Best Picture nominated film released in the first quarter of the year is US$673,082, while the same film released in the fourth quarter would recoup an additional US$7,830,000. The seemingly standard number quoted by industry analysts is that a Best Picture nod will earn the film an additional US$20-40m at the box office, but in many cases, this is a fortuitous matter of timing and the takings likely would have occurred without Academy support.
It`s important to remember that the real revenue for film studios/producers is not the takings at the box office, but the downstream revenue streams such as DVDs and TV rights which are estimated to account for up to 83% according to IBISWorld. In effect, the Academy Awards serve as a gigantic Superbowl-like global advertisement to help line the studios (and actors) pockets. No wonder everyone looks so happy to be thereâ€