Friday, October 28, 2011

Analysis: Academy wins with technology

By James A. Molnar
TGK Editor

More and more, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been showing off its technological prowess.

The organization's age may be creeping up on a century, but it seems that within the past year it's the younger and hipper. Utilizing technological advances, the Academy has shown that it is not slowing down. From weekly fan contests to streaming events from HQ, staff members at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard are creating a year-round hub for events and discussions — and not just for Academy members, but for the public.

Streaming
Fans of the Academy are all over the world and flying in for an evening at the Academy's headquarters, while a lovely idea, is impractical. However, tuning in to an event via the Internet is very practical.

And the Academy gets that.

The lightbulb went off for me on Wednesday night during another event streamed live on Oscars.org. "This is amazing," I thought to myself with not an ounce of cynicism nor hyperbole. "The Academy gets it."

The live streaming is becoming a tradition now that the Academy has found its technological knack. It knows movies and has the resources to put on exceptional events. Why not broadcast those events live for anyone to watch?

Wednesday night's event, dubbed "The Rise of Nonfiction Movies," featured contemporary documentarians talking about the industry and their most recent films. Moderator R.J. Cutler, producer-director of "The September Issue" (2009), made sure to keep things positive. At one point during the discussion between panelists, he reminded the others to stick to the "bright spots." (You can view the entire event here, for a limited time.)

This streaming event was not the first. The Academy first used the Livestream service in January for the announcement of the 83rd Academy Awards nominations. Other events included a panel with crew members of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in June and a conversation with Malcolm McDowell in September. The nominees luncheon was also partially streamed in February.

The Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater, where most of these events have taken place, is well-equipped for streaming. The audio and video worked perfectly for Wednesday's event and technical glitches were few and far between.

It is my hope that more events will be streamed in the future. I will be watching. At one point, there were approximately 120 people watching the stream on Wednesday. Even if only a dozen were watching it would be worth the effort for the Academy. The next big filmmaker could be inspired by such a discussion streamed on Oscars.org.

Social networking
Streaming is not the only technological change at the Academy, which was started in the late 1920s. It joined Facebook three years ago and Twitter last fall.

Starting in March, the Academy launched "Fan of the Week." Facebook fans answer and send a questionnaire to the Academy, which randomly features one fan every Friday. (The selected person gets an Oscars T-shirt.) Questions include a favorite movie quote and Oscar memory, along with "What would you like to see more of from The Academy?"

That same week, the Academy also launched a #FanFriday feature on its Twitter account. Every Friday, it asks a specific movie-related question and the fans its retweets win T-shirts.

This one-on-one interaction is surprising for an organization known for its solemnity and uppish nature. Technology may help change the tide and opinion toward the Academy.

An interactive Oscars
As The Gold Knight posted earlier this year, the 83rd Academy Awards were the most interactive Oscars ever.

In coordination with ABC and a high-tech Oscar.com, the Academy developed an iPad-based application, which allowed viewers to interact with the Oscars and go behind-the-scenes. The scope of the entire project was very impressive. There were special 360-degree cameras placed in and around the Kodak Theatre, which visitors to the website could control. Some features required a subscription, but others were free.

The interactive theme was important to the Academy, according to the Ric Robertson, then executive administrator (now COO) for the Academy.

“It’s a very core mission of the Academy to reach as many people who love movies and are interested in movies as possible,” he said in an interview with The Gold Knight Blog in January.

Robertson sums up exactly what all of these technological changes are about: connecting with fans. And that's what the Academy is successfully doing, more and more. Bravo.

Further technological changes are yet to come at the Academy, which is looking into electronic voting for the Oscars. But that's another post for another day.

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