Old Media Partying With Oscar Online
Here are two numbers to think about next Sunday night when you are rolling your eyes at the length of time it takes an Oscar winner to say thank you.
In January, the Golden Globes drew 20 million television viewers. And within a day of the ceremony, people.com, the Web site of People magazine, drew 39.6 million page views.
Page views and television viewers, of course, are not the same thing. Page views refer to the number of clicks on a Web page, and the same person could be clicking many pages.
Still, 39.6 million page views is a lot — and that was just for the Golden Globes. Imagine what traffic will be like for the Oscars, traditionally the second-biggest television event of the year after the Super Bowl.
The pre-Oscar drumbeat seems particularly intense this year as Web sites of the old media have jumped on the bandwagon and begun aggressively courting all those multitaskers who watch television and surf the Web at the same time.
People magazine, Vanity Fair (vanityfair.com), The Los Angeles Times (theenvelope.com), Entertainment Weekly (ew.com), E! (www.eonline.com) and many others have dedicated sections of their Web sites to all things Oscar. Many are counting down to an Oscar night with promises of more video, more blogs, more polls for fans, more predictions from experts and more sweepstakes than ever before. ABC, which is broadcasting the awards ceremony and promoting specials with Oprah Winfrey and Barbara Walters, has given the official Oscar Web site (oscar.com) a complete makeover.
Harnessing themselves to such blockbuster events marks yet another step in the integration of old media like magazines, newspapers and television into the online world.
The Oscars can help cement the brand loyalty of millions of Web surfers, who, at least in the case of print, are often moved to subscribe to the print product while visiting its companion Web site.
“Our first goal is to build traffic and get people hooked on people.com,” said Martha Nelson, editor of Time Inc.’s People Group. “Any time you have more traffic, you’re going to sell more subscriptions.”
At stake is millions of dollars as the Oscars — and the surrounding hype — drive page views higher, and Web sites can sell ad space for their Oscar sections at premium prices. Oscar-related sites are popular not only with studios promoting their movies but with major advertisers. L’Oréal, for example, is sponsoring Vanity Fair’s Oscar night coverage both online and in the magazine for the third year in a row.
“One reason people chase these big events on the Web is the big burst in traffic, and the ability to sell a sponsorship becomes more profitable the bigger you get,” said Sarah Chubb, president of CondéNet, the online division of Condé Nast, which publishes Vanity Fair. Unlike print products, she noted, Web sites do not cost any more to produce whether they are viewed by 30 people or 30 million.
Magazines, in particular, may have been slow to the Internet party. But the Oscars are a natural vehicle for showcasing themselves online. While many will offer blogs and snapshots from the red carpet, there is intense competition to offer material that readers cannot find anywhere else.
Vanity Fair, for example, has been the host of an exclusive after-party at the Oscars since 1994. This year, for the first time, it will post photographs and blogs from the party while it is still in full swing.
“We feel like the Oscars are such a big part of what Vanity Fair is, and now we have more capability to cover it in a more immediate way than in the past,” said Andrew Hearst, Vanity Fair’s online editor. “We’re almost covering it in real time.”
Vanity Fair will also have video from the party, which will appear on the Web site a week later, a time frame that stretches out the experience and gives readers a reason to return to the site long after Oscar has gone home.
This is the first year that People magazine has dedicated a special section on its Web site to the Oscars. The magazine has its own “After Midnight” party at a private home, and it also plans to post photographs and, possibly, video from the event.
Innovations this year include having people.com answer questions live during the broadcast about the goings-on. Its “Red Carpet Confidential” will have reporters transmitting items from behind the scenes. And as part of the buildup to the show, the staff will bring in the swag bags they collect around Hollywood through the week. “We’ll photograph this growing pile of goodies several times a day,” Ms. Nelson said.
Even the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, faced with drooping ratings on Oscar night, has become aware that it can build excitement for the show through its official Web site, oscar.com, produced in conjunction with ABC.
Ratings have fluctuated with the popularity of the movies nominated for best picture. In 2003, when “Chicago” won, only 33 million watched; two years later, “Million Dollar Baby” pushed viewership to 42.1 million.
The audience fell again last year, to 38.9 million, with “Crash.” But all of these pale against 1998, when “Titanic” won and 55 million people watched. (The Super Bowl traditionally draws about 90 million.)
Among the offerings on the official Web site are a presidential-campaign-style “Road to the Oscars” video; a regularly updated video diary from the host, Ellen DeGeneres; and a cellphone link that will alert fans to red carpet arrivals and let them see instant replays of her quips. During the broadcast, she is to direct viewers early and often to the Web site.
The site will also serve as a repository for things that could otherwise bog down the live proceedings. It will have a “Thank You Cam,” for example, where winners can deliver all the thanks that they are unable to squeeze into the 45 seconds they are allotted on stage.
For magazines, the subscriptions obtained online can produce a cascading series of benefits.
It is much cheaper for a magazine to get subscribers through a Web site than through direct mail, for example. And people who subscribe online are eager consumers.
Thomas J. Wallace, editorial director of Condé Nast, said readers of his company’s magazines are renewing their subscriptions through the Web at twice the rate of those solicited by mail. Moreover, he said, they are on average six years younger, “so they’ll be with us longer.”
“Since they were acquired digitally, they’ll renew digitally,” he said, “and we expect significant downstream savings through that renewal process.” He said one Condé Nast magazine had already increased its print circulation enough through its Web site that it had been able to raise its rates for advertisers.
So far, the Oscar-crazed Web activity by old media seems to be a boon to the smaller independent Web sites that have been covering the Oscars for years. Sasha Stone, who started oscarwatch.com in 1999, said she was initially worried about the competition. “I was an amateur, and I knew if the pros got involved, that would obliterate my site,” she said.
But Oscar-mania apparently only feeds more mania. “Newspapers are more concerned about me because I have the freedom to do whatever I want,” she said. “They’re creaming me traffic-wise, but they don’t take away my audience. People have their bookmarks and they hit one site and then another. What’s good for one site is good for them all.”
Who knows? With all the Web traffic on Oscar night, there may be more page viewers this year than television viewers.