New Academy rules soften studios' Oscar campaigns

LOS ANGELES: With the Academy Awards only weeks away, Hollywood marketers are in the final stretches of their Oscar campaigns, with little consensus on whether new rules and a shorter campaign season have had a discernible impact on the process.

LOS ANGELES: With the Academy Awards only weeks away, Hollywood marketers are in the final stretches of their Oscar campaigns, with little consensus on whether new rules and a shorter campaign season have had a discernible impact on the process.

This year marks the second time the awards will take place in February rather than March, though the nominees are still announced in January. It's also the second year of greater restrictions on who can receive screeners, DVDs for nominated films traditionally distributed free to Academy voters.

The changes were meant in part to curtail the expensive, extravagant campaigns studios wage in order to win. But the industry seems split on whether those changes helped rein in the campaigns or simply squeezed the same effort into less time.

Some observers say that this season is marked by "more subtle" efforts that rely less on a barrage of advertising and more on personal touches.

"I don't feel like there is the same horn-blowing," said one entertainment trade journalist, who, like most people affiliated with the sensitive Oscar efforts, declined to speak for attribution. "They're trying to promote movies by their merits instead of just by advertising."

For example, there has been an explosion of Q&As hosted by guilds and unions with actors, directors, and even crew members for nominated films giving potential voters a chance to mingle with the nominees and hear them discuss their work in person. In addition, some reclusive stars, such as Johnny Depp, have been more available for media.

Studios also have taken to staging high-profile releases for DVDs of films that came out early last year, such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

"They make the DVD launch as big as [a premiere] and then have a backdoor way of having screeners," pointed out an entertainment PR executive.

Despite the controversy over the nuances of this year's campaigns, most people agree that there is not a clear winner to sweep the show.

"There is no front-runner this year," said one PR executive. "It is not even a two-horse race."

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