Academy broadens online app-eal

ABC, AMPAS court moviegoers via social media

The attempt to attract a younger audience to this year’s Oscar telecast went beyond the hiring of James Franco and Anne Hathaway as hosts. It could also be clearly felt online.

This year wasn’t the first that Oscar went interactive, but it was the first time the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and ABC enlisted all the tools available to them to court multitaskers and moviegoers obsessed with social media.

Beginning with red-carpet coverage, Oscar.com and the “Oscar Backstage Pass,” an app designed to play on Apple’s iPad, offered live streams from eight cameras placed at various locations on the red carpet and another nine inside the Kodak Theater.

The aim was to provide full access to the live show from various backstage locations, including the control booth, the press room and the Kodak’s lobby bar. Cameras caught the audience of celebs and execs out of their chairs and milling about during the commercial breaks, but they were turned off whenever the show was back on air.

The catch: Viewers who wanted the voyeuristic access to the arrivals and ceremony — as well as other pre-recorded interstitials on the making of “Toy Story 3” or 3D filmmaking, for example — had to pony up $4.99 to unlock the footage.

The fee could be considered somewhat steep for a onetime event. But the Academy likes to tout that 1 billion people tune into the Oscars each year; 41.3 million watched in the U.S. last year, according to Nielsen, the most in five years.

If even a small percentage of that audience — hungry for the hidden-camera views without much, if any, idea of who they were looking at — bought the backstage access, it was an easy moneymaker for the Academy and ABC, which already earns considerable coin from broadcast fees and advertising.

Apple has sold 15 million iPads in the nine months since the tablet was launched. The device wasn’t available in time for last year’s Oscar ceremony.

ABC, which was the first network to offer an iPad app, has already proved itself an experienced online broadcaster with its video player, so it came as no surprise that the streams played seamlessly (there was a noticeable delay between the iPad stream and Oscar.com).

But the videos were just one part of Oscar’s online activity, with its Twitter feed, @TheAcademy, and Facebook page, posting continuous updates of winners and promos to purchase the exclusive footage.

Ironically, an hour after their wins, 923 people liked Aaron Sorkin’s best adapted screenplay win for “The Social Network” on Facebook, compared to the 1,150 who clicked the “like” button for the original screenplay award to David Seidler for penning “The King’s Speech.” That film also accrued more comments.

Even Franco turned to Twitter and Facebook to offer up real-time updates of photos and videos of backstage activity during his co-hosting gig, including one with presenter Oprah Winfrey. Franco had launched both social networking accounts a week before the Oscars.

“We did it tonight. History,” said Franco in one video several hours into the show.

“Well, you achieved history today,” Hathaway said. “You did something original.”

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