Oscars engages viewers online to improve its slumping ratings

Prior to its scheduled debut February 22, the entertainment industry was hoping the Academy Awards, also known as The Oscars, would have ratings like the Grammys, up by 2 million this year to 19.1 million viewers, rather than the Golden Globes, which earned its lowest ratings since 1996.

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Prior to its scheduled debut February 22, the entertainment industry was hoping the Academy Awards, also known as The Oscars, would have ratings like the Grammys, up by 2 million this year to 19.1 million viewers, rather than the Golden Globes, which earned its lowest ratings since 1996. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) implemented strategies to boost ratings, like planning several surprise presenters and building buzz online.

“We're trying to make sure people are aware of the show and tune in to watch,” says Leslie Unger, director of communications for AMPAS. “We've been utilizing online, and the message we've been delivering is [that] what's so great about Oscar night is the surprises and... you need to tune in to see what they are.”

Why does it matter?

AMPAS' communications team worked to build excitement for the show with pages on YouTube and Facebook, and an interactive Web site, which Unger called a “second-screen experience.” Such online experiences are becoming necessary in entertainment.

Rachel McCallister, co-president of mPRm, says online efforts before a show are about getting fans to participate. McCallister worked on Oscar.com a few years ago, and currently works on the indie Spirit Awards.

“If you get people participating... then they are going to watch the show,” she says, and that can translate to any show or event. During the show, updated outlets like Twitter give viewers a different perspective than what they are watching, she adds.

However, Unger notes, “As much as we're trying to utilize these [online] platforms, we really do still want people to watch the show on television.”

Five facts:

1 The first Academy Awards was held on May 16, 1929, and the awards ceremony was first aired on television on March 19, 1953.

2 Last year's Oscars attracted 32 million viewers, down significantly from 40.17 million in 2007, according to Nielsen Media Research.

3 The Golden Globes, not held in 2008 due to the writers' strike, had 14.6 million viewers in 2009, down from 20 million in 2007, Nielsen reported.

4 The Screen Actors Guild Awards, televised simultaneously on TNT and TBS, had 5.3 million viewers, down 12% from the 2008 Awards, according to Nielsen.

5 In 2008, 261 media outlets received credentials for the Academy Awards, and in 2009, 516 press organizations requested credentials, the Academy reported.

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