In the old days, Oscar watchers would look to Las Vegas to get a quick breakdown of which nominees were mostly likely to take home a statuette on awards night. Today, they can gauge the potential winners, as well as gain actionable insights on how to better market their films, via a process known as "social listening," an automated analysis of mentions on platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
"Share of voice analysis is something that public relations agencies have been doing for 60 or 70 years," says James Rubec, content marketing and social media manager for Cision. "It used to be you'd collect clippings from a newspaper to figure out how many news hits one brand has. Now, with social media, we can do it in real time, so instead a bunch of analysts doing it over the course of weeks, it can be one analyst over an hour collecting millions and millions of messages."
Often, the data merely confirm what is already known or suspected. The Revenant leads the Oscar field with 12 nominations, and it is also No. 1 when it comes to social media buzz.
According to advertising tech company Amobee, in the three weeks following the announcement of the Oscar nominations on Jan. 14, The Revenant generated 26% more digital content engagement than Spotlight, its nearest competitor in the best picture race. Revenant star Leonardo DiCaprio performed even better in the lead actor category, generating nearly double the engagement of second-place finisher Matt Damon (The Martian).
Similar results were unearthed by Cision, which tracks social-media performance for brands. It found that The Revenant had more mentions between Jan. 4 and Feb. 3 than any other best picture nominee and DiCaprio had a 16% larger share of the social mentions than Damon. But if one digs deeper in the data pile, there are some mixed messages to be found. According to social media analytics firm Crimson Hexagon, while Mad Max: Fury Road didn't see an overall increase in Twitter volume in January, it was the most talked about nominee on Jan. 14. But, since the nominations were announced, the most-mentioned best picture nominee has been The Big Short.
Mad Max also leads when it comes to online video views, according to cross-platform video analytics company Tubular Labs, racking up approximately 679 million views for the year. The Martian came in No. 2 with 181 million views, followed by The Big Short with 46 million.
Placing bets on the Oscars based on social listening data could be risky, given that platforms such as Twitter and Instagram favor a younger subset of the general population, while Academy voters constitute an older sampling of the film community. But last year Amobee correctly predicted the winners for best picture in all four major acting awards by analysing data from the first week after the Oscar nominations were announced (Jan. 15-21, 2015) and comparing it to the social media activity around the time each film was released.
While it's not feasible for studios to use social listening data to directly influence the Oscar vote, looking at such information connected to the awards can give insights into timing of promotional activities such as product placements and ads to increase and sustain buzz around a movie -- and, therefore, potential revenue.
"The social buzz around The Martian coincided not only with awards and nominations, but also around the DVD release date," says John Donnelly III, senior VP of sales and marketing at Crimson Hexagon. "Having all of these factors align help to maintain attention for a film, or, for those that may have been released earlier, help to recapture attention." One of the most active topics of discussion surrounding the Oscars is not about those who were nominated, but those who weren't -- specifically, people of colour.
According to Amobee, in the three weeks following the nominations there were 481K tweets using the hashtag #OscarSoWhite. During the same period, the digital content engagement around Straight Outta Compton and Beasts of No Nation -- two films with primarily black casts that received no nominations -- increased by 209% and 162%, respectively, over the previous three weeks. The number of tweets about non-nominated black actors Iris Elba (Beast of No Nation) and Will Smith (Concussion) also increased, 355% (29K to 132K) and 128% (145K to 330K), respectively.
In contrast, tweets about Sylvester Stallone fell 33% in the weeks after he earned a supporting actor nomination for Creed, from 85K to 57K, according to Cision. But he still stands as the favorite to win in his category, leading Tom Hardy (The Revenant) by a 0.6% margin in social media mentions, according to Toronto-based social media analytics company Sysomos.
"People are far more likely to express extreme opinions on social media, which tend to be more negative than not," says Assaf Henkin, senior VP of brand intelligence for Amobee. "Although getting snubbed for an Oscar may not be better for your career than getting an Oscar nomination, it certainly has the potential to generate a response from the public." Not all snubs are equal, however. According to Amobee, in the three weeks following the nominations, engagement decreased 65% for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which received five nominations but was left off the list for best picture.
According to Henkin, this indicates that The Force Awakens had such high level of digital engagement around its release that fan outrage around it not getting a best picture nomination had almost no impact. On awards night, the social conversation will change again, focusing more on what people do and say on the telecast rather than who wins what award. According to Amobee, the biggest social media event at last year's Oscars was Lady Gaga's The Sound of Music tribute, which generated 577,143 real-time tweets.
"At the Oscars, or any live event, it's the unexpected that gets the most play on social media," Henkin says. "Patricia Arquette's acceptance speech generated 168,930 real-time tweets, making it the second biggest moment of the 2015 Oscars. However, it wasn't just her award win people were talking about, it was her unexpected grandstand on gender equality that lit up Twitter."
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