Oscars guessing game goes online

17th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

Want to help shape the outcome of the Oscars race? Be part of the genre of websites and blogs which has exploded online.

HOLLYWOOD – The annual guessing game over who will emerge triumphant on Oscar night has spawned an entire genre of web sites and blogs dedicated to reporting the race to the Academy Awards.

Once little more than an idle past-time, it is now a full-time occupation for a crop of online correspondents who have built an industry around the business of predicting which films and actors are the Oscars front-runners.

Publicists and stars scan the blogs for clues, while studios spend advertising revenue on the sites as part of their Oscar campaigns.

Los Angeles-based journalist Tom O'Neil says he set up one of the earliest sites, goldderby.com, in 1999 as a non-profit venture after realising that Hollywood's awards season was akin to a horse race.

"I'd written a book in the 1990s that analysed the top 13 awards and mapped them out like a derby," O'Neil said. "So when the Internet came along I decided to launch goldderby.com as a way of encouraging journalists to join me.

"I recruited 45 journalists from different media. It was a lot of fun but it was not a for-profit venture and I never thought it would be."

Sasha Stone, a film buff with no journalistic background, started her site, oscarwatch.com - later renamed awardsdaily.com following a lawsuit from the Academy - around the same time.

"When I started there was maybe one other site online. Back then nobody was really talking about the Oscar race," Stone said.

"There were Oscar fan sites but there wasn't anybody examining the race as it unfolded, asking why certain movies make it and others don't."

In 2005, O'Neil's venture was acquired by the Los Angeles Times newspaper, which has folded gold derby into an entire section of the daily's print and web editions, theenvelope.com, dedicated to awards season.

It was around this time, O'Neil says, that more blogs started popping up as web technology became more accessible.

"The fan blogs exploded," O'Neil said. "Fans started doing what the journalists weren't doing, which was covering this as a real race."

Stone agreed, saying the advent of blogs changed the landscape overnight.

"Nobody saw the blog thing coming. Everybody thought the model would be journalists writing stories, newspapers online," she said.

"When that happened I changed my site. People love to post and engage in discussions, which is what they can't do in traditional press so much."

Unsurprisingly, the rise of this new media did not go unnoticed by the movie industry. Today studio and talent publicists regularly monitor the sites and are in constant contact with the people that run them.

"It's a dirty business," Stone laughs. "When I first started I was a single mom, just had a baby, living in a guest house.

"And I'm doing this website that I created from scratch, and all of a sudden a publicist calls me one day from Miramax and wants to talk to me about coverage. At the time I was shocked; now it's old hat."

O'Neil meanwhile said that the Oscar blogs have evolved from merely predicting the winners and losers: in some cases they have actually helped shape the line-up of nominees.

"We've affected the races, definitely," O'Neil said.

He cites the case of George Clooney, who won a best supporting actor Oscar in 2006 for his role in the spy drama "Syriana".

"George Clooney initially declared he was going to go for lead actor for 'Syriana' and all the bloggers got in a huge slugfest, saying he wouldn't win and that convinced him to go for supporting.

"That's where the blogosphere becomes helpful, it encourages a knowledgeable discussion about these kinds of issues."

Scott Feinberg, who started his andthewinneris.blog.com in 2005 before last year beginning another punditry blog for the Los Angeles Times, says the rise in Oscar-related sites reflected the web's ability to cater to niche audiences.

"I'm pretty sure you could be a fan of Swedish meatballs and you could find a blog devoted to that," Feinberg said.

"But I think as far as the movies and the Oscar race in particular goes, people like the idea of a horse race," he added.

"Everyone has favourites and you want to see how your preference is doing in the race. Is it moving up or down."

[AFP / Expatica]

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