Learning From A Splendid Failure

Observations March 7, 2011 9:04 pm

The 2011 Oscars:  Let’s call them a splendid failure for 2 reasons:

1.  I didn’t even get to watch the show! I was away for a conference and the hotel’s cable was out… when I called to express my dismay at missing my favorite awards show, the concierge apologized for the hotel’s ‘incompetent cable.’ At least I got a little laugh out of the situation.  Thank goodness for the Internet…

2.  And the ratings? Not quite as ‘Oscar worthy’ as I predicted.  Instead of seeing an increase in ratings, the ratings for the 2011 show fell 10% from the 2010 awards show.

Let’s look at my original predictions and see what we can learn from this failure:

1. Ten Best Picture Nominees: Why did I think this was important? “RelatabilityI think the majority of the population wants to know what’s going on- if they haven’t seen (or even heard of) the films nominated, they aren’t going to be all that interested in watching.  People want to root for their favorites– to say ‘I loved that movie, too!’ By expanding the best picture nominees from 5 to 10 films, there’s room for the ‘blockbusters’ the average Joe has seen that may have been previously excluded from consideration.”

I still stand by my relatability theory- I’m just going to look at it from a different angle: everyone’s been rooting for their favorite films/actors for so long, the results are somewhat predictable by the time the Oscars roll around.  Before the Oscars there’s the Golden Globes, Emmys, SAG Awards, Critics’ Choice Awards… and while the awards didn’t fall out in the exact same way, there was a large level of predictability.  Shoot, I even predicted The King’s Speech or The Social Network would win Best Picture- and I hadn’t even seen either film before the Oscars!  And guess what, The King’s Speech ended up winning.

Did viewers tune out because the awards show was too predictable?  Is there any way to solve this problem?

Possible Suggestions: What if the Oscars were earlier in the season?  What if Oscar nominees weren’t announced and the awards were a total surprise at the show?  What if the Academy switched up the order in which awards were presented?

2. Fresh New Hosts- I thought Anne Hathaway and James Franco would be a ratings boon for the Oscars- a good choice to bring a younger feel to the show without alienating older viewers.  And I predicted these two would work based on the idea that “if you’re trying to speak to the younger generation, speak to them in their language.”  Turns out, I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

What went wrong? Granted, I’ve only been able to watch clips, but from what I’ve seen… James Franco was totally checked out for the evening.  I mean, zero energy whatsoever.  At least Anne tried… with what material she had.  I think the writers may have been a little too eager to let the audience know that they were trying to attract a younger demographic… and therefore not really speaking to the younger demographic in their language.  Soo… combine little to no energy from Franco + overwraught writing and you get some hosts that seem to have fallen a little flat. (Anne, I still love you)

What to do? Here comes my research side– maybe its time to look at the most/least successful awards shows to see what resonated best with younger viewers.  Overlay minute by minute or second by second ratings over actual shows to see spikes/declines in young viewer ratings.  Focus groups (traditional and tapping into neuroscience) to hear what people like/don’t like about the hosts, show format, etc.  Maybe even look to experimenting with new writers for the show- giving a variety of different writers the opportunity to rework the script/create a new script and see how people in the focus groups respond.  I still think that in order to reach young viewers you have to speak to them in their language- and there’s got to be a better way to do this than this year’s experiment.

3. The ‘You’re Invited Campaign’ and a big push for Interactive, Muliplatform viewing– I predicted the fascination with Hollywood and the ‘unprecedented access’ to the show with the Oscars app and use of social media would help boost ratings.  Well…

The Good News:

Fans took advantage of the multiplatform viewing experience: According to ABC, the Oscars did see a huge jump in multiplatform viewing- “preliminary data on video views for the ‘Oscar’ multiplatform experience surged by +29% year to year on Sunday, with over 3 million total video views across Oscar.com and the Oscar Backstage Pass App” (from The Futon Critic)

Fans flocked to social media to talk about the Oscars: “During the five hours of the Academy Awards (which includes the red carpet pre-show), there were 36.4 million tweets. [J]ust to give you a sense of overall scale: during the five hours of the Super Bowl, there were 38.5 million Tweets created across all of Twitter in total.” (from Twitter)

Viewers loved the pre-show: “Live From the Red Carpet: The 2011 Academy Awards on E! drew nearly 4 million viewers, making it the most-watched in the franchise on E!, outperforming last year by 9 percent” (from Hollywood Reporter)

The Bad News:

Although the 2011 Oscars saw a huge lift in multiplatform, interactive viewing (app and social media), and E! set a record for their red carpet pre-show coverage, the overall ratings for the show didn’t increase from 2010.  Viewers were clearly interested in the fashion of the show- the red carpet pre-show- and what the interactive app offered- a behind the scenes look at the awards show.  Did the interactive experience take away from the live viewing? Did these viewers who watched for the fashion and behind the scenes have too much access to the content they wanted?

Wrapping everything together/How we can turn this ratings ‘failure’ into something positive?

Hmm.  The results of the awards show were somewhat predictable, the hosts weren’t all that entertaining (from what I’ve seen- feel free to weigh in), and the interactive app gave viewers the inside access they wanted (using the success of the red carpet pre show for this assumption- the red carpet show gave viewers  fashion, interviews with stars, 360 camera views… aka access, and this access was similar to what the app gave viewers)  Putting all these things together, there may have been less of a reason to watch the show live than I originally thought. Given the success of the app and the social media stats, did the interactivity of the show distract, rather than complement, the show?

How could the Academy make watching the Oscars live a bigger priority?  Given the success of multiplatform viewing, could the Academy evolve the  interactive experience so that it better complemented the live show to see an increase in ratings?

My two cents: What if viewers didn’t have to pay for the app, but instead- could only gain access to features if they correctly answered questions, based on what happened on screen?  For example- a question could be, what movie did Anne Hathaway and James Franco NOT parody in the opening skit?  Or, to unlock the Governor’s Ball experience, how many outfits did Anne Hathaway wear during the show or which singer did not peform during the show?

Basically, just having something to connect the interactive app and the live viewing experience.  Another idea- what if there was a live contest for viewers to attend the next Oscars?  Throughout the entire show the hosts/promos/snipes could alert viewers to answer a trivia question online, log in to the website, etc. and at the very end of the show, a grand prize winner(s) would be announced– the point being that the viewer would have to watch the entire show to find all the clues/hear all the questions/etc. in order to get enough questions right/log ins, etc. to win.

Hopefully the Academy will see this year’s Oscars as a splendid failure rather than just a failure– the ‘attracting young viewers’ experiment didn’t work out exactly as hoped, but I think the Academy is on to something with more best picture nominees, younger hosts, and pushing an interactive experience– hopefully the 2012 Oscars will just be a better execution of a good idea!

Comments are closed