I Would Like to Thank the Academy...

For actually giving us a second screen worth watching. After the underwhelming use of mobile at this year's Super Bowl, I wasn't expecting much from the Oscars. On the face of it, this ceremony does not seem to invite parallel processing in the same way sports does. For all we moan about the tedium of awards shows and the Oscars in particular, anyone who wants to watch the show is generally glued to the first screen, which doesn't allow for a lot of second-screen opportunities.

Unlike the Super Bowl, where Fox seemed to leave it to individual sponsors to come up with their own ad-hoc mobile complements, the ABC telecast pulled both the mobile programming and the key mobile ad interactivity into a single source. You could sign up for mobile alerts as the major winners were announced, which kicked you to the site. Both onsite and in the televised ads, Dove invited you to text in a vote on user-generated ads. And the mobile site itself was a noble, if not entirely successful, attempt to offer complementary material.



The SMS alert system worked well to ping me seconds after a winner was announced and it pushed me over to the site, where I got details about the winning role. The links often didn't work and the mobile site was not updating very efficiently. The experience really was optimized for an iPhone. Some of the video features wouldn't work on the feature phone I also used. But even on the iPhone you needed to reload both the winners and the blogging page in order to see the updates.

Shortly after the alerts went out, the acceptance speech was transcribed. This followed what seemed to be the conceit of the Oscars this year, acceptance speeches and the universal fantasy of accepting an award. The on-air programming ran clips throughout of past winners being announced and striding to the stage. The main Web site invited users to write their own acceptance speeches and read one another's. There was a "Thank You Cam" that fed clips of the winners adding more thanks backstage. Kudos to the Academy programmers for this clever motif. It plays right into the audience's own fantasies without calling attention to them too uncomfortably.

Having a clear frame to the show itself also helped give the mobile and Web programming more coherence and appeal. The real-time parallel programming seemed to have a point and a point of view, and that made both more compelling. I think it was a good idea for the mobile and Web sites to track so closely together. Most of the features being fed to mobile were select versions of the Web site material. The look, feel, and content worked nicely across all three screens.

The most impressive of the second-screen programming was the blogging from entertainment writer Joel Stein. He was posting every few minutes from backstage, and sometimes letting others grab the keyboard for a second. This made for much more interesting complementary content than typical backstage reporting. We got to hear about Tom Hanks comforting nervous newbies in that Tom Hanks way, and starlets vying for the bathroom. I found this an excellent use of mobile as a second screen. It offered a parallel narrative in my hand and it could even work independently of the show if a user wasn't watching. Interactivity was a missing element here. You could vote on the Dove ad, but it gave you no feedback, and we should have gotten the winning ad on our handsets at some point. The pick-the-winners contest was online only. And I am not sure why the red carpet fashion images were not being piped to mobile, because they might have made some nice wallpapers.

What I appreciated most about the Oscar mobile implementation was its modesty and seamlessness. It wasn't mobile for its own sake. It really did add content and value to the experience. It used the alert mechanism to push complementary information about the winners to me in real time, when it was relevant. The live blogging element was a welcome counterpoint to the formality and self-consciousness of the first screen presentation. And altogether I found it more interesting to access this information on my handheld than on the Web. It simply felt more like a personalized view into the event. Rather than a staggeringly innovative use of a new technology, the mobile Oscars suggested what mobile should and could be for event programming generally -- adding dimension and depth, not distraction.

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