Small movies mean small B.O. bumps

Besides 'Brokeback,' noms haven't seen boffo biz

Where’s the bump?

With Oscar nominations seeming to lose some of their traditional potency at the box office this year, most of the winning studios are expecting Sunday night’s kudos to have their biggest effect on ancillaries like DVD sales and free TV deals.

Kudos contenders have traditionally cashed in during the period between the announcement of nominations and the Oscar ceremony, but this year’s round have mostly failed to see much action.

Focus Features’ “Brokeback Mountain” has grossed the most since the noms were announced on Jan. 31 with $27 million, bringing its cume up to $79 million.

But the other best pic contenders still playing theatrically took in significantly less — Sony Pictures Classics’ “Capote” has grossed $10.5 million during the last six weeks, raising its cume to $26 million; Warner Independent’s “Good Night, and Good Luck” made $5.4 million bringing cume to $30 million.

One leading theory on why the Oscar bump seemed so mild this year is that it happened earlier in the season. “Even with the shortened award season, it’s still such a long, drawn-out process that has major media attention focused on it from early December onward, I think the argument can be made that they already got their bounce in December and January,” Lionsgate prexy Tom Ortenberg said.

In the past, the pics that have managed to rack up impressive box office numbers with Oscar hype — think last year’s big winner, “Million Dollar Baby,” or 2003’s “Chicago” — were released in mid- to late December; this year’s crop wasn’t held back waiting for the nominations.

And with the exception of “Munich,” those pics that had done very limited qualifying runs back in December with hopes that they’d convert noms into box office receipts often failed to secure the nominations sought.

So, with this year’s contending pics so late in their runs — three of the five best pic nominees were released before December — those who wanted to see the contenders in theaters already had the chance before noms were announced.

“The theatrical audience had already given, so there wasn’t much left to give,” he added.

But like “Crash,” which was already released on DVD last September and has seen disc sales surge with the awards attention, last night’s winners will likely see boosted sales when it’s released.

Studios are now regularly combining kudos campaigns with their DVD rollouts. Following similar moves by Universal with “Seabiscuit” and “Ray,” or Focus with “Lost in Translation,” this year Fox released “Walk the Line” on Feb. 28 and Warner Independent will deliver the disc version of “Good Night” on March 14.

“With DVD being a real part of the business, it’s really smart, because you’re getting not only what you’re spending on your DVD campaign, you’re getting validation with the Academy,” Focus distrib chief Jack Foley said.

One area in which Oscar may be worth money is free TV deals. While TV output deals are typically set to box office grosses, studios will also get added leverage in negotiations with broadcasters to get more than the usual 10%-12% of theatrical receipts free TV rights usually sell for.

“This year in particular,” said Warner Independent’s Steven Friedlander, “because the nominations had been out so long, I think the bump is going to be negligible.”