OSCARS SO WHITE OR OSCARS SO IRRELEVANT?

Shravya Kaparthi
Senior Analyst, Decision Sciences, RAPP Dallas

In the past few years, the Oscars were hijacked by the “spotlight” on Leonardo DiCaprio’s nominations and his chances of winning. Now that he finally won and people seem to have forgiven the Academy, can we move on and talk about other issues marring this coveted advertising platform?

This year, albeit through race-fueled outrage, the Oscars attracted some attention. Still, with 34.3M total viewers and a 10.4 rating among adults 18–49, the Oscars hit an eight-year low. Ratings have fluctuated widely over the past few years, from as few as 32M total viewers in 2008 to more than 55M in 1998.

This year 1.8M people in the U.S. sent a total of 7.2M tweets about the Oscars, a 22% increase over last year’s telecast (5.9M tweets). DiCaprio’s first Oscar win generated 175,148 of those tweets — the most of the night.

The Oscars are the most renowned film appreciation awards and claim to celebrate the value of art over the value of box-office dollars. And it’s true, most nominated films are box-office lightweights. Meanwhile, it is a well-known fact that television ratings as a whole are declining. But the popularity of the nominated movies does seem impact Oscar telecast ratings. In the years box-office hits like Avatar and Titanic were nominated across many categories, telecast ratings were the highest.

According to Kantar Media, the average cost of a 30-second TV spot this year was between $1.9M and $2M. Despite the controversy and speculation on viewership numbers, no advertisers backed out of the event. It would be interesting to understand the impact these ratings and numbers have in markets outside of the U.S.

In this technology-enabled golden age of media, with on-demand, personalized access to a variety of content —when and wherever a consumer wants it — how relevant are the Oscars as a media platform? And in particular, how significant are conventional 30-second ad spots — and are they worth their current price tag?

With millennials representing the largest consumer base in the U.S., and with over 40% of this population being ethnic minorities, how can an award academy with a median age of 62 — of which 94% are Caucasian and 77% are male — be relevant?

In the age of HBO GO’s personalized access, Netflix’s analytics-based original programming and Amazon Prime’s Viewers’ Choice! pilots, are the Oscars, a passive, telecast awards ceremony, a show of the past?

Is it worth spending $2M on a 30-second ad spot on this media platform?

Not for traditional advertising.

Brands, advertising agencies and media planners need to take a step back and re-evaluate the potential of this media platform. Leonardo DiCaprio winning his first Oscar after six nominations rated the highest on TVision's Smile Index with a 2.75, and Cadillac's "Rewind Time" spot, which aired during the 11 p.m. EST hour, scored the highest on TVision's Attention Index, with a 1.54.

The biggest brand winner, with no advertising spends, was Girl Scout cookies, thanks to mentions in on-air conversations and celebrity purchases, tweets and endorsements. The highest positive attention moment of the night was Lady Gaga’s rendition of “Til It Happens to You,” a song highlighting sexual abuse, which ended with numerous survivors joining her on stage.

From racism to climate change to LGBT rights to honor killings and sexual abuse of college students — both on- and off-campus — to the power of investigative journalism and the Vatican, many celebrities voiced their opinions and stood up for what they truly believed in. These are powerful issues that need a platform like the Oscars.

I believe this is why the Oscars as a platform has a larger role to play — celebrities realize the power of their influence. The Oscars should facilitate the same — move on from tokenism to impactful conversations. Brands should cash in on this and engage in purposeful and meaningful conversations with their audiences.

Evidently, most brands did not spend their money smartly this past Sunday.

Yes, it’s not just the Academy and Hollywood that need a revival, the Oscars as a media platform needs a revival too. Apart from bringing in a diverse group of performers and non-white hosts, the Oscars as a platform should embrace the changing media landscape. ABC should use interactive platforms — digital media, media consumption behavior/customer analytics, and branded content — to not just celebrate movies, but also to create relevant brand integration opportunities.

As reality shows across the globe have figured out, audience involvement with voting, popular choice award categories, behind-the-scenes conversations, co-created content, etc., is vital. With high-involvement categories like movies and celebrities, the Oscars must evolve. A modern platform that celebrates movies, the craft of moviemaking and everything about “the love of cinema, art, culture and creativity” might make this relevant content to consume. Otherwise, why not simply post show highlights in 15-second Flipagrams on Instagram?

Brands and advertisers should also explore avenues beyond traditional ad spots. It has been a while since advertising ROI metrics have moved from viewership numbers to engagement/experience/contextual conversation-driven parameters. Interesting brand engagement opportunities merging digital and traditional media should develop and grow.

If the Oscars fails to revive itself as a media platform, then that $2M spent on a 30-second ad spot can be spent in better ways — driving powerful conversations on other digital/personalized, direct-targeting-enabled media platforms.