And the Oscar Does Not Go To … The Net

Nominations for the Oscars — the film industry’s most glamorous honor — are big business.

According to box office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations, “Shakespeare in Love” had taken in a total of US$36.2 million before the Academy Award nominations came out in February 1999. After news of its 13 nominations came out, the film went on to gross an additional $64 million in North America.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the major movie studios throw millions of dollars into generating nomination buzz for their films. Miramax reportedly spent $3 million on trade ads, video mailings to Academy members, and other related costs for its “Shakespeare in Love” Oscar campaign.

With that in mind, the Internet seems like the perfect place to generate Oscar ammunition while keeping marketing costs down. Remember “The Blair Witch Project”? Analysts said that the online buzz created by the low-budget indie film would revolutionize the way in which the Net would be used to market motion pictures.

Guess again.

“If they’re doing anything in particular [on the Net] for Oscar buzz, I don’t know about it,” Chris Marlowe, new media reporter for the Hollywood Reporter, told the E-Commerce Times. “I can’t think of anything off the top of my head. Everyone has their own film sites, but they’re all aimed at consumers.”

Buzz, Buzz, Buzz

On Friday, the deadline for Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members to submit their nomination ballots for the Oscars, an E-Commerce Times search of the Web sites of this year’s major Oscar contenders found next to no evidence of any attempts to use the Net as an Oscar promotional tool.

A few studio sites, such as those of Miramax and Warner Bros., provided basic information to Academy members, including screening times and trailer previews. However, the sites of several Oscar contenders, such as “Gladiator,” did not appear to have been updated since the original release of the movies.

No ‘Consideration’

Meanwhile, although the print versions of industry trade magazines like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter are packed full of expensive ads to reach the Academy’s 5,600 voting members, their corresponding Web sites are almost bare of Oscar-related ads.

Variety.com offered occasional “For Your Consideration” pop-up ads, from relative longshots like “Requiem for a Dream” and “The Perfect Storm.”

Finally, Oscar.com, the official Web site of the Academy Awards, was gearing up for the February 13th announcement of nominations with content relating to the awards telecast itself, but little else promoting potential nominees. The only sponsorship of the site came from ABC, the network televising the Oscars.

Ready, Aim, Fire

So what’s going on? Certainly, the multimedia capabilities of the Net make it a great potential medium for motion picture marketing and e-commerce possibilities. Nevertheless, the major studios have not come close to exploring the e-commerce potential of the Web. Most Oscar campaigns are still waged offline, flooding Academy voters with print ads and copies of the films on video and DVD.

It may be as simple as this: the Academy members are not reliant on the Net, so neither are the studios. For the time being, Academy Award marketing efforts will apparently continue to focus on mailings, magazines and talk shows.

Perhaps online Oscar promotion is waiting for the day when Jay Leno or David Letterman take their late night gabfests to the Web.

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