Oscars Launches Live Streaming to Attract Younger Viewers

Accessibility and 'You're Invited' Push Try to Modernize Academy Awards

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The Hollywood mystique has been built on glamor and exclusivity. But this year's Oscars -- with an assist from Pixar chief John Lasseter -- will be all about accessibility.

The goal is to make the Academy Awards more inviting for younger audiences. The ABC broadcast is the second most-watched TV event after the Super Bowl and drew an impressive 41.2 million viewers last year -- a five-year high. But although the event remains pricey, at $1.7 million a spot, the broadcast's median age in 2009 was 49.5. Last year's ratings among 18- to 34-year-olds actually decreased 3% despite the increase in total viewers.

The plan is to make the Feb. 27 broadcast more inclusive with a "You're Invited" strategy that involves a new print, digital and outdoor marketing campaign allowing the average Joe to experience the red carpet virtually. The show itself will have new co-hosts. And, in a first, Oscar.com will offer a peek behind the scenes with an ambitious live streaming of all-access coverage from the red carpet to the control room to the press room where Oscar winners get 45 seconds for additional thank-yous.

Natalie Portman, beware: There will be precious few places to adjust the tape on that gown.

Co-hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco appear in two spots now running that were co-created by the Academy's marketing chief Janet Weiss with the Academy's agency of record, Omelet LA, as well as Academy President Tom Sherak and Oscar Co-Producers Bruce Cohen and Don Mischer. The campaign, estimated to be the largest-ever in the awards' history, will comprise everything from cinema spots to print ads to two interactive storefront installations in New York. The first installation debuted last week at 1333 Broadway and allows pedestrians to insert themselves into a "virtual red carpet experience," while the second, "Meet the Oscars," will debut in Grand Central Terminal four days before the Oscars on Feb. 23.

Also returning this year is an expanded version of the Oscars' first iPhone app, which debuted last year and is enhanced with new graphics and more social-media functionality.

Janet Weiss, marketing director for the Academy, credited the early planning stages among the producers and the show's agency partners for playing a big part in bringing the Oscars into 21st-century marketing. This year's planning began last July shortly after Messrs. Mischer and Cohen were named as the show producers.

"Visually, our challenge was 'How do we stay true to the heritage and lineage of the brand but modernize it and expand the Oscars to a younger audience?'" said Shervin Samari, partner-CEO of Omelet. "Once we started we realized there are these icons that only the Oscars can own, from the statue itself to the envelope to the red carpet to the lights."

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Those elements will be played up in the Academy's print and digital ads, and even at Oscar.com. That's where Pixar's chief creative officer comes in. John Lasseter, who sits on the board of the Academy, wanted to help his corporate siblings at ABC take Oscar.com to a different level. In recent years, the site (operated and sold to advertisers by ABC) was often an afterthought for all the competing red-carpet and post-awards coverage. So Mr. Lasseter met with ABC's digital chief, Albert Cheng, and Disney-ABC Television President Anne Sweeney last summer to think about different ways to engage viewers in real-time while they watch the ceremony on TV.

The result is what Mr. Cheng describes as "the biggest live-streaming event ever." In total, ABC will dispatch about 20 to 30 cameras for live streaming coverage at Oscar.com. Red-carpet footage will be available for free ad-supported streaming, while the other more behind-the-scenes cameras will be protected by a $4.99 pay-wall.

The end result should be something sure to terrify any potential Oscar winner into even thinking about picking his nose in his crowning glory. "If you're watching the telecast with your laptop, you could see someone deliver their thank-you speech on TV, then as the music plays you'll see them walk off the stage on your laptop, going offstage through the control room and onto the thank-you camera," Mr. Cheng said. "You can follow them all the way down to the press room, assuming you can keep up or don't get distracted by anything else."

As for the ceremony itself, co-producer Bruce Cohen promises a show that will feel brisk with a mix of tradition and tribute to the year in film -- and with fewer montages, to boot.

"There are so many award shows on TV and this is the one that celebrates the movies and only the movies. We wanted the show to be cinematic, and showing clips from the films isn't necessarily cinematic," Mr. Cohen told Ad Age. "We're focused on showing the stage and all the things happening on it; hopefully for the TV audience that will feel like an exciting large-scale experience. Of course there will be some clip packages, but very few."

Also look for a return of the Best Original Song category, which was shelved from last year's telecast due to lack of popular nominated songs. This year's nominees include songs performed by Mandy Moore ("Tangled"), Gwyneth Paltrow ("Country Strong") and Dido ("127 Hours.")

As for the hosts, Ms. Hathaway and current nominee Mr. Franco, Omelet partner Steven Amato argues that they're the strongest marketing asset this year. Not only do both stars have hot movie careers, they also appeal to the show's desired youth demo.

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