Oscars: PwC Has Deeper Relationship With Academy Than Just Awards Show


The historic Oscars best picture mix-up has raised questions about the relationship between the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm that tabulates votes. The association between the two organizations extends beyond the annual awards show, perhaps making it more difficult for the film organization to break with its long-time accountant.

PwC has taken responsibility for a mistake that saw presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway incorrectly announce that “La La Land” was the best picture winner. The organization made it clear Wednesday that, at the very least, Brian Cullinan and the other partner working the show, Martha Ruiz, will not be back in 2018. AMPAS president Cheryl Boone Isaacs told the Associated Press that the relationship with PwC “remains under review.”

Cullinan, a partner in the firm, handed Beatty the wrong envelope, and he opened it to see the name of best actress winner Emma Stone, for “La La Land.” “Moonlight” was the actual best picture winner. It was later revealed that Cullinan had been tweeting backstage minutes before the envelope gaffe.

But PwC’s suite of services to the Academy involves more than just counting and securing Oscar ballots. The company also oversees AMPAS’s elections, prepares its financial documents, and does its taxes. Because the Academy is a non-profit and in consideration of the tremendous promotional value from its Academy Awards role, PwC does not charge the organization its typical rate.

Tax files show that PwC charged the Academy $211,520 for accounting services in 2014, $125,284 in 2013, and $189,423 in 2012. It performed financial services for both the Academy foundation and its museum. A recent Marketwatch article estimated that accounting services related to a broadcast like the Oscars would cost half a million dollars.

In return for its work on the awards show, PwC is able to use its association with the Oscars  in its promotional materials. It also receives free publicity on the broadcast and red carpet coverage. That kind of exposure cuts both ways, raising the firm’s profile, but now also linking it in the minds of the public to the embarrassing Oscars gaffe.

“The broader consumer audience doesn’t know them that well and now what they know them for is this mistake,” said Katie Sprehe, director of corporate reputation and brand strategy at APCO Worldwide.

PwC did not respond to requests for comment, and the Academy declined to comment.

One person who understands the inner workings of the Academy said there is likely considerable ambivalence about how to treat PwC going forward. The accounting firm has done its job smoothly for more than 80 years and managed a transition as certain changes were made, for example in 2009 when the Academy switched to so-called “instant runoff voting” for Best Picture. That system asks voters to rank their selections for the award and means that second-place choices can end up impacting the final outcome.

So there may be some sentiment in the Academy’s upper ranks to keep PwC in the job, while instituting new procedures to prevent a repeated of Sunday’s flub. “Maybe then they decide to maintain the relationship,” said the source, who declined to be named.

“On the other hand, they are supposed to be the steady hand and there was this terrible mistake,” said the Academy ally. “It could be a fire-able mistake.”


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  1. Of course it's a fireable offense says:

    You get what you pay for.

  2. Brian Johnson says:

    A stunning amount of hubbub for one of the most self-aggrandizing backpatting ego-fests on the planet. The world of ordinary people is laughing harder at how serious the Academy is taking this than at the actual mistake.

  3. Jimmy Green says:

    Unfortunately this incident is so careless and reckless, one might doubt if the counting of votes was done accurately or slip shod.

  4. Moe Sezzwut says:

    Hilarious! – Just look at the daggers shooting out of Dunaway’s eyes at Beatty after he served her up on a platter & then look at that dope from PWC trying to conjur up a story about how it happened. Dope!
    Then look at some of these source quotes…”remains under review” & “there may be some sentiment in the Academy’s upper ranks to keep PwC in the job” – Ha! – There must be some nasty secrets being kept to not drop kick these guys. Classic!

  5. Rudy Mario says:

    Corrupt and crooked good Ole Boys Club.

  6. Ahsoka says:

    Talk about one of the biggest f**k ups in Oscar history. PwC shot themselves in the foot with this one. Next time do not hire a guy who cannot stop tweeting to present the envelopes. This is what happens when one becomes addicted to social media.

  7. Lisa says:

    Doesn’t the winner take possession of the envelope upon accepting the award? If so, Emma Stone would have had the envelope in her hand. Or did she put it down somewhere for it to be picked up by someone else? Either way, the best picture card wouldn’t read ‘Emma Stone – LA LA Land’.

    • Rob Fitz says:

      They have an accountant on each side of the stage, and each one has the full set of envelopes so they’re ready regardless of which side the presenter comes from.

      • Eli says:

        Having a backup envelope in both sides is not stupid, but actually very wise. One cannot anticipate a blockage of the stage for whatever reason during a live performance, one that won’t even show on camera. Also, one mistake in 80 years is a damn good track record for PwC.

      • observer says:

        And that is stupid, also. There are rehearsals before a show like this and camera blocking, so they KNOW which side a presenter is coming from. No excuses except dumb ones. UNACCEPTABLE!! (PS: This has happened once before – with Sammy Davis, Jr.)

  8. Rene Albert says:

    Its Price Waterhouse Cooper that should be banned from future Oscars events. Its their job to ensure they have the right people representing them. And they failed miserably in their responsibilities and duties. Fire them!!!

  9. Ruth Deutsch says:

    I think the real problem at the Oscars was that no one thought ahead of time to make their system “idiot proof” – such as to insert all the used envelopes in a box, so this couldn’t happen.

  10. patric says:

    geez guys, you are really trying hard to sidestep blame and trying to unload it onto Culinan. Its a mistake, period…oh put the blame on him because a star struck accountant was tweeting…but no one wants to address when the envelope was opened, it said EMMA STONR, Best Actress, LA LA Land.
    At what point did Beatty or Dunaway say, “wait, there is a mixup”? anytime once the envelope was opened. Beatty even said he read Emma Stone, LA LA Land but handed the envelope to dunanway as if throwing her under the bus. we already know those two didnt want to rehearse together, so yoou have 2 loose cannons on stage not paying attention…yeah and you want to pin this all on Culinan…

    • JoeyC says:

      The presenters’ job at the Oscars is to read the teleprompter and read what’s on the card. It is not their job nor responsibility to question what’s on it. It doesn’t matter if the card said “Tom Hanks–Forrest Gump,” their job is to read what’s given to them. Cullinan’s only job–literally his ONLY job–at the Oscars is to ensure the presenters receive the correct card. He failed at his ONLY job! And why? Because he was distracted by tweeting? You fire a high schooler for messing up a McDonald’s order for that kind of an offense. Let alone for messing up the biggest award of the biggest night of an entire industry in the world.

      You’re seriously saying a partner in one of the largest ACCOUNTING firms in the world should not be held ACCOUNTABLE? That’s crazy talk.

      On a lighter note, not that an actor needs my support, but have you ever performed in front of a crowd? Any sized crowd will do. High school plays, a dive bar in front of friends and family, what have you. There is a certain pressure that exists when you perform in front of an audience. If you’ve never performed then you can never know. But if that pressure exists at the smallest of levels, it is magnified exponentially when you’re in front of thousands in person and millions on TV. Once you’re on stage you’re taught at the earliest levels to just go with the flow: “the audience doesn’t know anything’s wrong until you let them know something’s wrong.” Obviously if you’re sitting by yourself in a bubble and you see “Emma Stone – La La Land” on the card instead of a movie title first, you’re gonna say “I got the duplicate Best Actress card!” No, you’re going to assume the guy whose ONLY JOB is getting you the proper envelope did his job, and you’re gonna go with the flow and not let the crowd know anything’s wrong.

      • observer says:

        Sorry but I couldn’t disagree with you more. Presenters are continually straying from the “prompter.” The accounting firm is to blame, for sure, but the presenters should have said they thought something was wrong. They can take that responsibility if they feel something is so amiss, as THIS clearly was.

    • sammyglick says:

      Are you Cullinan’s uncle, brother or father? Seriously, blame can be spread all around. Sure, maybe Beatty and Dunaway could have just stopped the show while the situation was solved, or maybe Cullinan could have paid more attention and stopped tweeting (which is another aspect of the free PR PwC gets) — but people like you would probably grouse about that. At the end of the day, it’s little more than an awards show. Beatty and Dunaway did their job (only to get tripped-up by the envelope mixup) and Cullinan didn’t do his (but yet, people are supposed to give him the benefit of the doubt).

      People like patric are probably more upset they can’t whine and complain about one film winning over another, than they are sincerely upset that a Hollywood awards show had a tiny bit of actual drama at the very end thanks to a starstruck accountant.

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