Oscar-related sites have no pretence of objectivity

HOLLYWOOD — Oscar prognosticators on the web are multiplying as fast as studio remakes, but does anyone actually pay attention to these self-styled experts?

Welcome to the new world of cyber-Oscar and the tangled web he is weaving, where one day “Chicago” is the picture to beat and the next day it’s “fading fast,” all before it even hits theaters.

Objectivity clearly isn’t the goal for these site hosts, who freely mix personal opinions with plants from publicists and filmmakers. Oscar maven Zeusefer, for example, who operates “Zeusefer’s Year Round Weekly Oscar Prediction Charts,” admits the web site’s sources include “marketing and PR consultants, people from studios and talent agencies and occasionally directors and screenwriters as well.”

Zeusefer is one of dozens of Oscar-related fan sites featuring offering year-round “analysis” and speculation that seems to change daily.

They sport names like Oscar Watch, Everything Oscar, Oscar Central, Ultimate Oscar, Sigmen’s Oscar Experiment, and many more, including Goldderby, a 2-year-old site which reduces the race to language more often heard at Santa Anita while pitting writers from AP, USA Today and other mainstream media against each other to determine which “fillies”, “ponies” and “stallions” will cross Oscar’s finish line first.

Internet columnists such as the Hot Button’s David Poland, Movie Poop Shoot’s Jeffrey Wells and Fox.com’s Roger Friedman also try to inject themselves into the dialogue with nonstop awards chatter and predictions at their sites.

Several Oscar consultants and film execs say they monitor these sites consistently, at least to make sure they can’t do any damage to a well-orchestrated Academy campaign.

“I don’t contact them, I respond to them,” says Tony Angellotti, a veteran Oscar campaign consultant working with Universal and Disney animation this year, who often checks in on different sites. “I see what’s written, and if there’s something inaccurate I will point it out to them, and hopefully that puts them on the right track.”

Nancy Utley, president of marketing for Fox Searchlight, admits she visits Oscar Watch and Goldderby to see what the current Internet buzz is.

Utley says she is not always confident in the level of expertise she finds at some sites, however. “A lot of times they are handicapping movies that they haven’t even seen. It’s a little bit crazy.”

An internecine war recently broke out on the Web over who was allowed to attend and write about an early screening of the unfinished “Gangs of New York.” Miramax, which probably wished for a more mainstream media launch, was forced to deny it had anything to do with the invitation in question.

“It was personal and petty,” says Hot Button’s Poland, who claims a heavy industry readership for his Oscar predix. “We all got sucked into it and it was stupid.”

Warring factions aside, Oscar-watching on the Web seems to be a growing phenomenon and a new wrinkle for already beleaguered campaigners to deal with. Sasha Stone, who runs the 3-year-old Oscar Watch, says practically every day someone asks her to add a link to some new Oscar site that has just popped up.

“I had no idea it would be as popular as it has become,” she says. “Every year it has gotten bigger and bigger, and started earlier and earlier, and the hit count keeps going up.”

Still, no one is yet claiming these sites have reached the key constituency of every Oscar campaigner: the elusive Academy voter.

“It’s hard to imagine Robert Wise surfing the net and reading this stuff,” says one publicity exec. “These sites are more for the Oscar consultants and publicists than voters. Most members are still reached through more traditional means.”

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