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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Oscars forge new credibility in the furnace of scandal

In a new survey, 71 per cent of respondents said they saw the Oscars brand as trustworthy — up from 51 per cent in 2015.

With the Oscars just days away, industry figures have tried to strike a reflective, humble tone in light of a glut of recent controversies that have dogged Hollywood. AFP
With the Oscars just days away, industry figures have tried to strike a reflective, humble tone in light of a glut of recent controversies that have dogged Hollywood. AFP

With the Oscars just days away, industry figures have tried to strike a reflective, humble tone in light of a glut of recent controversies that have dogged Hollywood.

From the #OscarsSoWhite row of 2016 to the Weinstein sexual misconduct scandal currently engulfing the business, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is acutely aware of the need to project a more wholesome image.

The good news is that both the viewing public and the deep-pocketed advertisers who make the annual telecast so lucrative, far from being fazed by Tinseltown's manifold iniquities, seem to trust the Oscars brand more than ever.

"There is no doubt that Oscar has made a total turnaround," said celebrity branding expert Jeetendr Sehdev, author of a recent study on attitudes to the glitzy climax of Hollywood's annual awards season.

"It's a phenomenal achievement for the leaders of the Academy, not only because the brand has been highly discredited and distrusted over the past few years but also because of the politically charged environment in Hollywood."

Sehdev, an influential academic with more than a million followers on social media, solicits opinions about the rich and famous from 2,000 randomly-selected adults in the US as part of an ongoing study established in 2012.

In his most recent survey, entitled "The Power of the Oscar," 71 per cent of respondents said they saw the Oscars brand as trustworthy — up from 51 per cent in 2015.

'Colour-blind' millennials

Around three quarters agreed that the Oscars was a premium entertainment brand and that the annual show is "innovative," while 69 per cent said the brand was "visionary" — a rise from less than half in 2015.

This is despite a now-infamous mixup in the 2017 ceremony that resulted in Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway being handed the wrong envelope for the best picture announcement.

A big factor in improving trust has been major reforms within the 8,500-strong Academy after a second consecutive crop of all-white acting nominees in 2016 prompted calls for a boycott and widespread outrage on social media.

Many of the Academy's long-nonworking and mostly white male members had their voting privileges revoked, while the vast majority of almost 1,500 people invited to join in 2016 and 2017 were women or people of colour.

The credibility of the Oscars matters to the stars vying for the statuettes because it translates into cold, hard cash, says Sehdev.

"Celebrities who win an Oscar this year will benefit from the halo effect of an award that has greater relevance in the eyes of both audiences and brands," he told AFP.

"Oscar winners will inevitably score higher priced endorsement deals as brands look for celebrities who can influence millennials — our most colour-blind and multicultural generation yet."

Some eight in 10 respondents to Sehdev's survey agreed that black Americans were responsible for the improvement in trust and respect, while just 5 in 10 credited women, suggesting that the #MeToo movement had less impact on brand-building than #OscarsSoWhite.

Makeover

"However, the brave women of Hollywood who have spoken out against sexual harassment are also seen to be critical to driving Oscar's makeover," said Sedhev, the bestselling author of The Kim Kardashian Principle.

Advertisers seem as unfazed as the public by the Weinstein scandal, the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, "Envelopegate" or — perhaps most importantly — dwindling viewing figures that hit a nine-year low of 33 million last year.

ABC, which airs Sunday's ceremony, sold out of commercial time during the telecast by February 15, the fastest take-up in recent history, putting it way ahead of last year's schedule and chalking up record ad revenue.

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The broadcaster will air 16 commercials made specifically for the ceremony, up from just five last year, with at least 12 clients buying up airtime for spots celebrating female empowerment and inclusivity.

Advertisers, reportedly shelling out around $2.6 million (Dh9.54 million) for a 30-second spot, include prestige or household names like Cadillac, Rolex and Google, while MGM, Microsoft, Netflix, Nike, Twitter and Disney are among the sponsors.

"In addition to being the most highly viewed event that celebrates storytelling and excellence in film, the Oscars provides advertisers opportunities to engage with viewers in meaningful ways during a cultural moment they care about," president of advertising Rita Ferro said in a statement.

The Academy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.