The Oscars – Social Heritage

Did you watch the live broadcast, through any source, of the Academy Awards, known more popularly as the Oscars?

Did you watch it time delayed – depending on where you live? Or perhaps just follow it through various postings across a host of channels? Or maybe even just discuss it with a friend to share a “Like,” or an agreement or disagreement with the judges’ choice, or perhaps just to register your desire to see one of the selected movies or one of those not?

Chances are – if you live in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago or London – you might have…this at least according to Google Trends, which pre-Oscar showed a “zero” search trend just about everywhere else (to be fair – Texas and Florida showed a small interest…), and post-show seems the same.

Yet, the night is being touted as the be all and end all of the movie industry – Hollywood’s biggest night – global entertainment’s number one event. The producers claim an audience of 1 billion viewers aggregated — across all channels. Nielsen will no doubt beg to differ, as early numbers show growth of the TV audience to be flat, which would make the hurdle to an audience that large, highly unlikely – but I’m ready to bet it’s big…

Let me be even more cynical and share with you the fact that the aging or should I say graying (makes me feel better) live audience has over the past ten years aged twelve! And according to the Nielsen Ratings, the overall audience has dropped as many as 10 million viewers over the past ten years – although it has clawed back up a bit and is expected to do the same this year as well.

All in all – an event whose time has come? An anachronism? A relic of a past age? Or is something else happening here?

Let me begin with a favorite topic – follow the content: Great movies going in, the right hosts and show material and guess what – more people watch, stay tuned in and talk about it positively.  And more – given the right hosts and material, the audience expands – Generation World – younger people come in without alienating the older.

No magic – no digital bounce yet – simple – make it interesting and they will come.

Now – let’s look for the bounce!

So here is the sad truth – I wanted to know, in aggregate, how many people interact with the Oscars. I searched and searched some more – and then yet again – across every engine – through every permutation – and the only information I could find on audience size was from Nielsen; or was the billion number dropped by Seth MacFarlane, the host.

It’s as if we had entered a time warp and were back at the original ceremony where the audience was measured by the 270 people in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

The winner for Best Picture was Wings (a silent movie), which also won for Best Engineering – watch it – it’s worth it.

I might also point out that in our age of always on – anywhere – everywhere – instantaneous connections, the first Oscar was awarded in 1929, only two years after the first transatlantic telephone call was made from New York City to London. Transatlantic calls cost $75 per three minutes.

So here is my question.

Are we fooling ourselves?

Do we (me very much included) ascribe more to our digital connectivity than maybe is true?

More to the point – do we just make sweeping assumptions and bombastic predictions because we ourselves with our smartphones, tablets, pads, networks and latest greatest apps just happen to see the world through our own digital eyes – and miss the bulk of the world – who are not connected in the same way. And to whom the luxury of tweeting or posting about our current mode, bad service at a restaurant or latest status is as alien as Mars.

Or maybe we are not so isolated and the deepest truth is that we are all connected; there are many shared values – Generation World is in fact a growing phenomenon.

To begin with, we need more information – the best movies from anywhere make money everywhere else – meaning that global movie sales are what drive fame and fortune – no matter what the home market for the movie is.

For example, Avatar made 70% of its close to $3 billion outside the US. Same for Titanic – and the list goes on.

Second, I continued my searching and discovered this fact – the most recent Oscars were seen in more than 225 territories internationally via traditional broadcast, VOD and online streaming – this according to Disney and the deals they have cut around the world. Clearly a larger audience than the one measured by Nielsen….

Finally I thought I’d share a comment recently made by the singer Adele, who performed her Academy Award-winning theme for the latest James Bond 007 movie Skyfall at the Oscars.

Asked at the Grammys earlier this month how she felt about the prospect of singing to Hollywood’s finest, and hundreds of millions watching live around the world, she answered, with characteristic frankness: “I’m shitting myself.

And there you have it – proof of the globality of the event and its huge and interconnected, engaged audience.

Bottom line – the world has come a long way since the first movie was made – since the first talkie – since the first color version – even since digital production was first introduced.

We are still in our digital infancy – flailing around – picking up everything and throwing it away just as quickly – but every day brings new understanding, new engagement, new learning and amazements.

We are like parent and child in one – we watch ourselves, amazed at what we can do, and marvel at what we learn. Yet we have no guide to lead us, so our missteps are probably more frequent and our recovery longer.

We have a lot to figure out and there is more thrown at us every day – which is why I rail against the analysts and pundits who speak in the absolute, who deem it necessary to forget anything that has ever happened before, who need to tout everything as the latest and greatest in order to monetize, and who in general – in my opinion – are actually holding us back from the full potential of what we can achieve in this world.

Nielsen aside – people engaged with the Oscars through more human ways than we can count – and more importantly, the influence of the movie content represented has a great impact on shared culture, shared discussion and shared values –

As I said – we are just at the beginning – to look back at 1929 and say that 270 people in a closed room in Hollywood had no impact on the world is sheer nonsense – ergo, to suggest that in today’s always on/interconnected world it has no impact is equally wrong.

Let me end with a thought from one of the best…a movie that won three Academy Awards (Oscars) including Best Picture, and is in most, if not all lists of the top 100 movies ever made – Casablanca:

[Last line, as Rick and Captain Louis Renault walk off.]

Rick: Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

We are at the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and like all friendships it needs to be nurtured, grown, cherished…the future is yet to be written – let’s not write it out before it happens….

Final thought – whether you watched it or not – whether you tweeted, posted or merely mentioned it – I will bet that you will see at least one of the winners – and watch other movies from your own country and others – and therein is that beautiful friendship between us and content and the power of the digital world….

What do you think?

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