February 24, 2007 in Business

And the windfall goes to …

Associated Press The Spokesman-Review
 
Associated Press photos photo

Actors Matt Damon, left, and Leonardo DiCaprio appear in a scene from “The Departed.” Most seem to agree that an Oscar nomination or win can add anywhere from $10 million to $50 million to the gross revenue of a nominated film.
(Full-size photo)

LOS ANGELES — Movie studios spend millions of dollars this time of year touting the Academy Award nominations garnered by their films.

But does an Oscar translate into box-office bucks?

The answer is hard to determine, although most industry analysts and economists seem to agree that nominations and wins can add anywhere from $10 million to $50 million to the gross revenue of a film.

Figuring the worth of an Oscar to a film or even an individual is tricky in a town where budgets are hazy at best and where studio economics increasingly include deals that give some participants a slice of gross ticket sales, even if the movie is a stinker.

One often-cited study done in 2001 by a Colby College professor concluded that films that receive “top” nominations — best picture, best actor and best actress — can expect significant revenue boosts.

The study focused on Oscar-nominated films released in the fourth quarter, meaning they are likely still in theaters when nominations are announced and the awards actually given. Movies released earlier in the year are already out on DVD by the time of the awards, and studies haven’t quantified the impact of winning on their sales.

For those late-year films, a nomination is worth about $7.8 million, while a win can add another $16 million on average, according to study co-author Randy Nelson.

“The numbers could be bigger now because they moved up the nomination and awards dates,” Nelson said Friday.

Other things have changed since the original study, including the fact that studios release films internationally much sooner than they used to and that films are often released onto DVD while still in theaters. Nelson and his colleagues are conducting a new study to account for the changes.

A more recent study concluded that a nomination in the “best picture” or “best actor in a leading role” category could increase weekly box office revenue by more than 200 percent in subsequent weeks.

A nomination in the “best actress in a leading role” category increased weekly revenue by 150 percent, according to the study “For Oscar Glory or Oscar money?” published in 2005 in the Journal of Cultural Economics.

That study contradicted Nelson’s, concluding that the bulk of extra revenue comes after a nomination, with the actual award adding little to the bottom line.

The financial importance of an award is greater for independent producers looking to parlay credibility into financing for future films, analysts say. Major studios also benefit because talent agents tend to bring “A-list” actors and screenwriters to more successful studios.

But the actual financial benefit to a particular film, its studio, or the multinational media conglomerates that own the studios is harder to determine.

“You’ve got this fog around the actual number,” said Harold Vogel, a financial analyst and author of the book “Entertainment Industry Economics.”

Vogel said figures for film costs that appear in trade publications simply can’t be trusted. Neither can estimates of marketing budgets, leaving it nearly impossible to gauge whether a film has actually made a profit.

And there are costs associated with awards that need to be subtracted from extra revenue they may bring in. Studios typically spend millions of dollars to tout nominations and even more to advertise an Oscar winner, cutting into whatever extra revenue those awards may generate.

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