Having completed more than ten research studies on the movie industry, Sauder Marketing Professor Charles Weinberg has a strong interest in the annual Academy Awards. Including studies on the complexity of movie contracts, movie piracy, and long term box office performance of major sequels,Weinberg's research has given him a business perspective on Tinseltown that goes well beyond the glitz and glamour.
Ahead of the 86th Academy Awards Professor Weinberg shares his insights on how to pick a winner, how the Oscars affect ticket sales, and more.
Q: What standout trends have you noticed with this year’s Oscars?
A: In any Winter Olympic year, the Oscars tend to occur later than usual and are off centre-stage for a while. The Oscars are typically the next major “must see live” TV event after the Super Bowl, but this year, the Olympics dominate for two weeks in between.
Nevertheless, one of the big draws for this year’s Oscars is the apparent two-horse race for winner of the best picture award - 12 Years a Slave and Gravity - with some others in close contention. Interest builds when the race seems competitive.
Interest also builds when the Oscar nominees are “mass-market” as compared to “art-house” films. This is one reason why the number of Best Picture nominees has increased from five to a maximum of ten since 2010. This year’s list includes four mass-market hits: Gravity, American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Captain Phillips - all of which have earned more than $100 million in North American box office revenues.
Broadcast networks are having trouble retaining their audiences in the face of competition from cable networks, mobile devices, etc, so “live events” are more important than ever - to broadcasters, viewers, and advertisers.
ABC is doing well with its ads this year, which supports this, although The Wolf of Wall Street is making it tricky for the broadcaster as it contains more than 500 f-bombs. How will the Oscars find a clip to show on prime time TV?
Q: What is the real impact of an Oscar win on movies?
Many Hollywood producers and distributors think that Oscar nominations increase ticket sales so release their movies in late December in just a few theaters. They then have their nationwide release in January after the Oscar nominations are announced. This year distributors of art -house movies like Her, Nebraska, and Philomena had hoped that Oscar nominations would move their movies into the mass market, but so far that does not appear to be the case.
Although some movies (possibly 12 Years a Slave this year and Black Swan & The Fighter in 2011) have enjoyed an Oscar bump, the academic evidence is mixed on this. In one detailed study based on Australian data, movies with an Oscar nomination tended to have no higher sales in the weeks following an Oscar nomination than they otherwise would have had.
Oscar nominees and Oscar winners tend to have higher box office returns than non-Oscar movies, but that is simply because they are better movies. Most often, the Oscar nod will have a limited effect, in part because this happens late in a movie’s run. However, the real question, unanswered in academic studies so far, is whether Oscar wins boost online streaming, DVD, and other post-theater viewing.
Q: Based on your background as a researcher, can you help us choose the Oscar winners?
A: Well, it’s tricky but for the major categories [aside from Best Picture which has 10 nominees], there has been some success. Once we know the five nominees, choosing one at random offers a 20% chance of being correct. The director winning the Best Director’s Award from the Director’s Guild of America Award has an 80% chance of winning the Director’s Oscar - this year that would be Alfonso Cuaron for the movie Gravity.
More complicated statistical models can raise the prediction rate even higher, but Best Picture is much more difficult to predict. A simple rule is to check out the Golden Globe winner. About 50% of the time this winner also wins the Oscar, most likely from the Drama category.
Q: How does age help predict the best male actor and female actor awards?
A: In this category, age matters. Which award goes to the older actor? On average, male winners (aged around 42) are older than female winners (aged around 33). Is this good news for Bruce Dern, and perhaps worrying for Judi Dench? Both are long shots, but then again so was Meryl Streep when at the age of 62 she won for Iron Lady.