If you restricted your intake of the Academy Awards to the TV, that’s a shame. Oscar.com offered a rocky, though highly promising, ride to the future of broadcasting that played opposite the telecast about as well as Geoffrey Rush did Colin Firth in Best Picture winner The King’s Speech.
Given the choice of watching the digital side of the Oscars, I chose the browser-based view known as All Access over the Backstage Pass view, which assembled the same video feeds for iPod, iTouch and iPad.
Since this was the first time out for All Access, it’s understandable something this ambitious and complex was going to be somewhat less than seamless. What makes it a triumph is the fact it wasn’t a total mess; there were plenty of glimmers as to what this could become.
Even though All Access cost $4.99 (Backstage Pass was a more economical 99 cents), it was money well spent to watch a relatively new approach to event coverage.
The interface was simple, intuitive and responsive. The video quality was excellent; there was almost no buffering. Yes, there were annoyingly sizable time lags when switching among the dozen different camera angles the user was allowed to choose at any given time, but even there Oscar.com handled it well: when a user clicks away from a feed, it continues right up until the requested feed began (while a graphic indicated the requested feed was loading).
Wisely, there was little advertising cluttering the page, just a banner ad for Diet Coke or Hyundai. Trying to push the presence of marketers too much in an environment that requires the user to pay to access would have been problematic.
Red Carpet: All Access was at its best on the red carpet preceding the telecast. Multiple cameras were positioned at different stations along the red carpet, and a few more gave some unusual views from inside the Kodak, one above the lobby bar.
On the carpet, some of the camera work was as shaky as an early Spike Lee film, but it kind of conveyed the chaos on display.
Not only did All Access emcee Dave Karger, a writer for Entertainment Weekly, get great A-list talent as guests and handled them superbly, he often spoke to the stars before they appeared on TV. After 15 minutes of trying to watch online and TV for side-by-side comparison of the red carpet, I turned off the TV because All Access was just a better experience.
The production was far from smooth; two different feeds could often be picking up Karger interviewing a celebrity, but one would be inaudible. Toward the close of the red-carpet portion of the show, Karger signed off only to reappear minutes later to interview Hugh Jackman.
Backstage: All Access didn’t fare nearly as well backstage during the Oscar telecast as it did on the red carpet. The failure here was the decision to not use audio on most of the available feeds, which was probably due to safeguarding the talent should they say something unfortunate while unaware of cameras they’d expect to only be on stage.
The worst was the fact that not only was there no audio from the camera in the Oscar control room but pumping in Muzak instead was adding insult to injury. Same went for two other cameras positioned backstage.
Devoid of audio, most of the images made little sense. Others were frustrating. It would have been great to hear just what Justin Timberlake was saying to the winners for art direction for Alice in Wonderland, but all you could do was look.
The closest All Access came to success backstage was the Thank You Cam, where winners occasionally offered an addendum to comments they made on stage, but nothing I heard was remotely memorable. In one unfortunate moment, Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich offered comments to the Thank You Cam only to be ushered off after 30 seconds because the audio wasn’t working. He gamely returned shortly afterward once sound was restored.
The cameras kept rolling even after the telecast at the Governors Ball, the industry party inside the Kodak Theater where attendees head immediately after the show. Not only was there some nice overhead shots that gave the public a glimpse of something they don’t ordinarily see, there was even footage of the engraving process for the Oscar statuettes (both closeup and wide shots).
Improvements: What ABC (NYSE: DIS) and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences should think a lot about before trying All Access or Backstage Pass again is curation. While it’s impressive that there were a dozen cameras offering active feeds at any given time, the abundance of choice occasionally induced a sense of paralysis. There was no indication of what was the best feed to check out at any given time.
While the “host feed,” which featured co-hosts doing their best to help users navigate their way through the experience, they rarely seem to have a handle on what was going on elsewhere. There were flubs aplenty, though giving viewers a look at what goes on in the Press Room interviews was another great addition.
Another shortcoming that needs to be introduced into All Access is social media, which was completely absent from the interface. That’s pretty much inexcusable.
There was an odd stuttering effect to the image in the 360-degree click-and-drag video feeds, but they were otherwise terrific to soak up the atmosphere outside the Kodak Theater. Why a 360-degree was put in the press room is anyone’s guess, though thankfully it didn’t work any time I tried it.
Watching the Oscars as a two-screen experience could be exhaustive at times, but it raises hopes that by the time AMPAS works out the kinks of this supplemental experience, there will be a TV-based app that puts it all together for the living-room HD monitor.
In the meantime, it will be interesting to watch this approach evolve; there’s plenty of potential to unlock.