Oscar Needs Twittery Twist to Stay Relevant
The Oscars could use a little updating if the Academy wants to remain relevant in this new world of 140-character blasts of random thoughts. Just as those journalists who cover Oscar-mania are trying new techniques such as live blogging, the Academy also should venture into new territory.
02/27/09 4:00 AM PT
Still smarting from a long-ago Best Picture snub for "A Few Good Men," I chose not to watch the Oscars this year because -- well, I can't handle the truth. So I got my Oscar news and views from various live blogging efforts that delivered their own snarkified take on Hollywood's idea of honoring truth in art.
It was more enjoyable, saved me the trouble of wearing out the fast-forward on my DVR, and gave me some ideas on how social media might help shield the Academy and Hollywood from impending irrelevance.
The Envelope, Please
Best Oscar Live Blog with an Attitude: Deadline Hollywood Daily. L.A. Weekly's Nikki Finke warned readers to "come for the cynicism, stay for the subversion," and she didn't disappoint. "Will Smith says he asked to be part of this Academy Awards broadcast," she blogged at one point. "Obviously, his usual 7 p.m. performance at the Pomona Dinner Theatre's presentation of 'Oklahoma!' was dark tonight. Because even that would have been better use of his time."
Later: "The show has been on for 2 hours now. I've officially lost the will to live." It's just a hunch, but I'm guessing she wasn't impressed with Hugh Jackman, weird musical numbers, a dearth of movie clips and Sean Penn beating Mickey Rourke for Best Actor. Finke, a self-described "card-carrying liberal and proud of it" was moved by acceptance speeches calling for tolerance of gay marriage, the subtext for every "Milk" victory. "On the other hand, the entire state of Utah just turned off their TV sets. Disney's Bob Iger just fainted." And so it went for Finke's live-blogging of what she called the Gayest Oscars Ever.
Which brings us to our next category, Best Oscar Live Blog by Those Who Always Sit On the Right-Hand-Side of a Theater: Andrew Breitbart's Big Hollywood, a fairly recent entry in what's becoming a crowded entertainment blog category, but I'm betting the only one that covers it from a conservative viewpoint. Breitbart, part of Matt Drudge's online posse (and recipient of much Drudge link-love) has put together a long roster of right-thinking actors, screenwriters, authors and bloggers, and all were on duty Oscar night. Penn's victory and acceptance speech gave this crowd a second wind. "Mickey Rourke is thinking right now: If only my wrestler character was gay ..." wrote screenwriter/journalist Andrew Leigh. Musician-blogger Jude Christodal added: "I had forgotten why I don't watch these things, but there it is. Most popular boy in school wins for message film over a once-in-a-decade performance." "Oh Boy ... here comes Prop 8 the musical all over again," wrote someone who goes by the nom de blog Stage Right.
It may be a sign of social media progress, or another sign of the Technopocalypse, but like certain cable news channels, now entertainment blogs can preach to different ideological choirs. And Oscar Night is becoming their Election Night/Super Bowl.
Put the Audience in the Front Row
Oscar night's TV ratings were up slightly over last year's record low Nielsens, and despite the bad reviews from Finke and Big Hollywood, some major critics liked Jackman, the production numbers and the stunt of bringing out former Best Actor/Actress winners to say nice things about this year's nominees. But we're still talking about a bloated 20th-century event trying to lumber its way into the Internet age. Many may enjoy the tradition, the links to old Hollywood and the red carpet-fashion ogling, but others are increasingly critical of aging Academy voters who can't bring themselves to honor the likes of a "Dark Knight" or "Wall-E" for categories that don't involve sound effects editing or Best Animated Feature ghettos. Folks, it's going to take more than dragging out Zac Efron and the cast of "High School Musical" to expand the audience.
Here's where social media can time-step its way into the picture. I realize that ABC would never go for this with its Oscar coverage on the mothership network, but maybe it would allow one of the corporate cable cousins -- or ABC.com -- to have running Facebook or Twitter commentary onscreen from movie buffs during the ceremony, just like CNN.com and Current TV did during the Obama inauguration. Imagine the flurry of tweets -- had this system been in place this year -- for Jackman's opening number, the surprise victory of "Departures" over "Waltz With Bashir" for Best Foreign Film, and of course the guy who played Spicoli beating out the guy who was in that sex movie with Kim Basinger for Best Actor.
ABC could also take a cue from fashion/style Web site Glam, which set up an edited Twitter feed for Oscar night. As VentureBeat reported, executives at the facial care products maker Aveeno could feel comfortable knowing their brand would be sitting next to tweets scrubbed free (and gently exfoliated, no doubt) of any inappropriate content.
Hollywood Mingling With Social Media
The network that owns the rights to Hollywood's big night has its own issues. What about Hollywood itself and its attempt to find out just what its audiences think of its product? How are they using social media to promote their movies? Social networks like Facebook and Twitter can do for the studios what they're threatening to do to other media; eliminate the middleman and bring the corporation that much closer to their customers. But is it enough to just set up a Facebook page and Twitter account for the upcoming comic-book blockbuster "Watchmen?"
"I do think that's where Hollywood has so much to learn," Sharon Waxman, founder and editor-in-chief of The Wrap, told me in between meetings (apparently it's not just the studio heads and agents taking multiple meetings; now it's required for those who report on studio heads and agents). "Web 2.0 is about learning from one another and connecting and sharing. It cracks me up to watch studios for years struggle to find out what their audience, their consumers think about their product, and they spend loads and loads of money trying to make projections, exit polls, research. It's still a tiny sample. When the availability of reaching your audience is instantaneous, completely direct -- if you are using Web 2.0 tools properly -- you don't need your statistically-valid sample of someone who you've corralled outside some multiplex, or some group of people you've herded into a room."
Waxman recently heard first-hand about the search for common ground between movie studios and new media companies; she hosted a panel featuring executives from Yahoo! and Universal Pictures. The takeaways? "The studio are investing a ton of resources into trying to figure out how to use the Web to promote their movies. I don't know about twittering; I don't know if that's the best tool. What I can tell you for sure is that it's difficult for them to make the decision about how much to spend online. The research shows that while most people now get their information about movies online and watch trailers online, the impact of online advertising is nowhere near when they see it on a billboard or a TV ad."
If I Ran Hollywood
Here's the pitch: think "The Player" meets "The Matrix." A studio executive has gone completely out of his mind and decided to let me have control of social media marketing for Warner Bros' "Watchmen." The first call I make is to John Bell of Social Media Today, who has obviously read the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons graphic novel and made some great social marketing suggestions on his blog; allow people to petition for repeal of the Keene Act (fictional legislation that outlaws superheroes), work up exclusive trailers just for the fanboys, prop giveaways, opening day party tickets.
The Facebook pages are already set up and loaded with videos, pics and ample room for comments, but I would also have director Zack Snyder file brief, daily Twitter reports from the editing bay, where he's making last-minute tweaks to his depictions of Nite Owl, Dr. Manhattan and Rorschach, all leading up to opening day. Record video/audio files from the actors and screenwriters helping to introduce the characters; have Gibbons or the screenwriters write new chapters of "Under the Hood," the superhero autobiography-within-the-novel that helps tell the background stories, and stick them on the Facebook pages. Use Twitter, Google Maps and cell phone geo-locator apps to encourage and find Thursday midnight screenings where fans can join up to watch and pass judgment on Snyder's work. If he's done his job well, then those fans become sleepy-but-committed marketing assistants, spreading the good word and telling friends to watch "Watchmen."
The only thing I ask? When the Oscars are handed out for "Watchmen," give my invitation to someone else. I'll be busy at home Twittering my scorn over the musical number featuring a naked blue Dr. Manhattan and Silk Spectre II.
TechNewsWorld columnist Renay San Miguel started his journalism career with his hometown newspaper in Texas in 1979. He moved to television in 1985, anchoring, producing and reporting in Austin, Dallas and San Francisco before joining CNBC as a technology correspondent from 1997 to 2000. Following a stint with CBS MarketWatch, which included filing tech stories for the CBS Early Show, San Miguel joined CNN Headline News in 2001 as an anchor/tech reporter. He also contributed digital content for CNN.com. After his 2007 departure from CNN, San Miguel founded Primo Media and now freelances in television/online reporting and media consultation.