Oscars Betting: Hollywood Punts
The annual Academy Awards ceremony takes Hollywood and the world by storm every spring, bringing together some of the film industry’s finest talents along with a healthy dose of glitz and glamour. As the awards season approaches, Oscars betting becomes a hot media topic; we’re here to provide you with the ultimate guide to predicting this year’s Oscar winners and picking the right Hollywood player for your next punt.
All About The Oscars
While those in the penguin suits and fancy dresses might know the ceremony as “The Academy Awards”, most of us know it by its pet name, the Oscars. Why are the Academy Awards known as the Oscars? The name “Oscar” actually refers to the golden statuette awarded to winners, a nude sculpture based on Emilio Fernández, a Mexican actor and screenwriter. Nobody knows exactly where the Oscar nickname originated, but many believe it was first adopted by Margaret Herrick, a librarian for the Academy who eventually became an executive director, who thought the statuette resembled her uncle, Oscar. The Oscars are overseen by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, an organisation made up of around 6000 film industry professionals. Membership is on a strictly invitation-only basis but once they’re in, members remain for life (even if their film careers go south).
Understanding Oscar Voting
In order to predict this year’s Oscar winners, it’s important to understand how the nominees and eventual winners are drafted. Members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are split into 17 different groups, each one corresponding to a certain professional category such as “Actors” or “Sound”. Members that fall into many categories or work across different areas are classified as “Members-At-Large”. Nobody can be a member of more than one category at any one time. To demonstrate, an Academy member such as Ben Affleck, despite being involved in Acting, Writing, Producing and Directing, will only be included in a single category (most likely to be Acting, despite having won as Oscar for screenwriting).
Here is a list of all 17 Academy categories:
- Casting Directors
- Costume Designers
- Film Editors
- Makeup Artists and Hairstylists
- Public Relations
- Short Films and Feature Animation
- Visual Effects
The Academy releases only limited information about the names of its members. Some known Academy members include Colin Firth, Julianne Moore and Christoph Waltz (“Actors”), Wes Anderson and Mike Leigh (“Directors”), Judd Apatow and Diablo Cody (“Writers”) and Bryan Adams, The Edge and Eric Clapton (“Music”).
Films eligible for Oscar awards must have had a US premier at a public cinema and all films must have been advertised and screened in a Los Angeles country theatre for at least 7 consecutive days. Feature films must also be at least 40 minutes in length and anyone wishing to enter their film for consideration must submit a form called “Official Screen Credits”, which lists all the relevant parties involved in the making of the movie. The Oscars are still stuck in the days of celluloid and currently films released on alternative platforms (such as iTunes, Netflix or DVD) prior to or instead of cinematic release are ineligible. Foreign film entries do not require US cinematic release, but only one entry per country is permitted.
Oscar nominee voting begins at the very end of the calendar year (for the 87th Academy Awards, this will be Monday 29th December 2014 ). All 6000 members of the Academy are presented with the “Reminder List of Eligible Releases” to choose from. Nomination voting is done by secret ballot, a process which ends after less than 2 weeks (in 2015, the ballot will close on Thursday 8th January). Academy members select 5 choices in their category, in order of preference. Voting only takes place within a member’s own category; for example, those in the “Actors” category can select the supporting and leading actor and actress nominees only. The “Best Picture” award, however, is voted for by all Academy members. A private accounting firm then secretly calculates the nominations (there must be no more than five per award) and just one week later, the nominees are announced. Nominations are usually broadcasted live across the world and presented by an Academy executive and prominent Hollywood figure. In 2015, the 87th Academy Award nominations will be presented on Thursday 15th January. Taking place in the morning in Los Angeles, the UK usually gets the nominations in the early afternoon. The final Academy vote begins a couple of weeks later (Friday 6th February 2015) and lasts for 11 days (until Tuesday 17th February 2015). Critically, all members of the Academy are permitted to vote for winners in all categories, regardless of their classification. The Oscar ceremony then takes place on a Sunday evening. In 2015, the 87th Academy Awards ceremony will be held on Sunday 22nd February, midnight GMT. The live Oscar ceremony is not widely broadcasted in the UK due to the time difference, but highlights and red carpet news usually hit early on Monday morning.
Voter Statistics: Predicting The Winners
What does all this Academy voting data mean for Oscars punters? Well, now we know how the voting process works, we can put our knowledge to good use and help predict future winners. Although we don’t know exactly who the 6,000 Academy members are (aside from the few famous names mentioned earlier), an investigation published in the L.A. Times revealed that 94% of all Academy members are Caucasian, 77% are male and 86% are aged over 50. If you want to predict next year’s Oscar winners, you need to think like a middle-class, professional, over-50, white male. The older vote starts to show when you look at some of the films that previously lost the “Best Picture” Oscar. For example, at the 83rd Academy Awards (for films released in 2010), The King’s Speech won “Best Picture” over The Social Network, a film which appealed to a much younger demographic.
The Social Oscars: Predicting Hollywood
Thanks to the sheer volume of Twitter and Facebook (and to a lesser extent, Google+) users, some social media analytics companies are now able to predict Oscar winners with surprising accuracy. The basic principle behind social Oscars is to examine the number of mentions each films and/or nominated person receives. The more mentions, the more likely they are to win. Why? Because, generally, films that get discussed frequently are popular and of interest to the voters. Ubervu, a sub-branch of social media management platform HootSuite, successfully predicted all 4 acting Oscars (Jared Leto, Lupita Nyong’o, Cate Blanchett and Matthew McConaughey) before the 86th Academy Awards using social tracking.
Mentions alone, however, are not 100% fool-proof. Negative mentions can confuse the statisticians; for example, major flops and Razzie winners such as Catwoman or Gigli are widely discussed but will never stand a chance of winning Oscars. If you plan to get started with your Oscar betting early (i.e. before the nominations are released), try to filter out popular films that receive negative reviews or comments. Extra features like conversation maps can be used to see which words are generally associated with each film/nominee (such as “good”, “great”, “watched”, “recommend”).
Microsoft Research: Oscar Prediction Success
Microsoft’s research team successfully predicted 21 out of 24 main Oscar awards in 2014. The researchers looked at four categories (fundamentals, polling, experts and prediction markets). Fundamentals included box office takings, other award wins and number of screenings, but this data alone was quite inaccurate because it could not narrow down the individual elements of a film into its award categories. Polling involved public opinion, but was limited to a small sample size. The experts consulted were professionals with knowledge of the film industry who used past winners and historic data to predict results. Finally, prediction markets looked at the odds issued by bookmakers. By combining odds, opinions and raw data, Microsoft predicted the 2014 Oscars with amazing accuracy. While opinion polls and expert testimonials may be out of reach for the average punter, the Internet gives us all the data we need to make an educated guess on the outcome of the Oscars. Unfortunately, by the time this data is available, it’s usually too late to make a lucrative bet as the bookies’ odds are already stacked in favour of the most-likely nominees.
When To Place An Oscar Bet
When it comes to Oscar betting, odds are key. By the time it’s the week before the live ceremony, there are many reports from social media companies and research bodies that offer reliable predictions. Of course, the bookmakers are usually one step ahead of the trends. For example, at the 83rd Academy Awards, held in 2011, Colin Firth was a clear favourite to win “Best Actor” thanks to his earlier success winning a Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild award and BAFTA. The bookies slashed his odds down to an incredibly low 1/66, marking him as a ‘sure thing’. A £66 bet on Colin Firth to win an Oscar would have won you a paltry £1 (£67 back) – hardly worth the walk down to the bookies. The stats show that if you wait until the last minute to place an Oscar bet, your odds will be poor. Early predictions are where the money is made, but how is it possible to spot an Oscar winner before the nominations are in? Let’s find out more.
Spotting An Early Winner
Never ones to miss a betting opportunity, bookies start taking bets on Oscar winners up to 1 year in advance. As soon as the previous ceremony ends, talk quickly shifts to next year’s winners, and many early predictions start being passed around. By June, only halfway through the cinematic year, odds are starting to take shape, especially for major categories such as “Best Picture”. For the 2015 Oscars, an early favourite is the film Trash (currently at 6/1 odds to win), despite it being unfinished and 5 months away from release. Other hot tips are the Angelina Jolie directorial effort, Unbroken, 1980s crime drama A Most Violent Year, Brad Pitt war drama Fury, biopic of British Enigma code cracker Alan Turing, The Imitation Game, and Stephen Hawking biopic, Theory of Everything.
That brings us to the first point on our early prediction checklist: release date.
#1 Pick a film with an October or November US release date
The saying “strike while the iron is hot” certainly applies to Oscar voting. Hot contenders for awards season are usually scheduled to be released in October and November (in the US) in order to gain momentum and stay relevant when it becomes time to fill in the voting ballots. With votes taking place over the Christmas break, old releases from before the summer and very recent releases from December are likely to be overlooked or forgotten. Need further proof of this theory? Here are the US release dates for the last 4 Oscar-winning films for “Best Picture”:
- 12 Years A Slave – 8th November
- Argo – 12th October
- The Artist – 23rd November
- The King’s Speech – 26th November
For UK film lovers, the best Oscar hopefuls will be released in December/January, just a few months after the US release dates.
#2 Pick a film for an older demographic
Popular films with younger audiences, such as the Hunger Games, Harry Potter and Lord of the Ring franchises are unlikely to win Oscars for anything other than technical achievements. Why? Because the voters are older males, therefore narratives crafted for these older voters tend to be more popular. A notable exception is 2007 smash hit, Juno, which won an Academy Award for “Best Original Screenplay” (Diablo Cody). Juno tells the story of a pregnant high school teenager deciding what to do with her unborn child, an unusual Oscar-winning tale (although it was unlikely to succeed in the “Best Picture” category). To show just what kind of films can win “Best Picture”, here are the themes from the last 10 Oscar-winning films:
- 12 Years A Slave – 19th century slavery, based on a memoir detailing real events.
- Argo – 1970s hostage escape in Iran, based on a book detailing real events.
- The Artist – romantic comedy drama set in the 1920s/30s silent film era.
- The King’s Speech – 1930s character study of Britain’s King George VI, based on real events.
- The Hurt Locker – bomb disposal unit in Iraq war, based on a book detailing real events.
- Slumdog Millionaire – young underdog plays ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’ using his life experiences, based on a fictional novel.
- No Country For Old Men – 1980s hunt for a hitman in Texas, based on a fictional novel by Cormac McCarthy.
- The Departed – Boston-set crime thriller involving mobsters, gangsters and the FBI. Remake of Hong Kong film, Internal Affairs.
- Crash – Los Angeles-set ensemble film about racial tension in the city.
- Million Dollar Baby – haunted boxing trainer coaches an underdog amateur boxer, based on short stories by former boxer Jerry Boyd, detailing some real life events.
Based on these themes, historical and/or gritty dramas are more common winners than comedies or contemporary pieces. If genres are more light-hearted, such as is the case of The Artist, then another feature is required in order for it to win (in this case, it was the black and white and silent elements that made it stand out). A similar example can be found with Chicago (“Best Picture” winner in 2003), a musical with a female-centric cast. While the genre was not typical of an Oscar-winning films, its historic setting helped bring it back into the realm of the usual winners.
Whether you’re Oscar betting at the last minute or painstakingly teasing out the winning film months in advance, it’s always worth having a little flutter on the outcome of the next Academy Awards. Our final tip for you: always compare odds between each bookie (online is easiest) to make sure you’re getting the best return on your next Hollywood novelty bet.