Oscar Predictions: Can Fancy Math and Social Media Really Forecast Winners?

Fri Feb 24, 2012 5:28pm EST

Need help with Oscar predictions? Social media companies and tracking firms are falling over each other to position their websites, apps and infographics as surefire ways to forecast who will go home with this year’s gold statues.

Not all methodologies are equal. Maybe the most these tools can do is give you amunition for watercooler chatter instead of giving you an edge in your office Oscar pool. 

Tom O’Neil, who helped get the trend started in 2000 with the launch of his Gold Derby website, told TheWrap that the competition among companies trying to make sense of the Oscar race has never been fiercer.

“I expected some kind of upsurge with the arrival of the internet, but I’m absolutely flabbergasted by how many more people are in this space,” he said.

Gold Derby uses an algorithm and draws on critics’ predictions to try to forecast the race. Many new sites and apps have a less scientific approach.

Also read: LA Times Trumpets a Scoop: The Academy Is Old White Men!

The brand company General Sentiment, for instance, uses social media activity around actors and films to predict who is ahead in the contest. That’s a novel idea, but sadly Twitter activity has little to do with how the Oscars are actually decided.

The annual awards show is voted on by the organization’s 5,765 members, not by the general public. 

Not that every Oscar sage is trying to figure out who will go home happy on Sunday night.

Also read: Can 'The Artist' Have It Both Ways?

Sites such as IMDB are drawing on their vast user base to capture how popular various Oscar nominees are with film fans. It does not claim to have a formula for predicting who will win best actor or actress.

“This is just another fun way to skew the data,” Keith Simanton, managing editor of IMDB, told TheWrap.

Here’s a brief description of some of the ways companies are promising to help Oscar fans beat the odds or, at the very least, find out if Twitter really, really likes Max von Sydow.

Gold Derby

The old man in the game. Gold Derby pools the top experts from publications and sites like Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone, the site's editors, and its users to try to come to a consensus about who is in the lead going into Oscar night.

Predictions are listed in a number of charts, and are aggregated into racetrack odds and percentages. O’Neil said that by combining all of the different expert predictions into one algorithmic souffle, the site has a better track record than any one Oscar prognosticator. 

Wisdom

Crafted by business analytics site MicroStrategy, this new Facebook app breaks down the demographic data among fans of this year’s crop of Oscar-nominated films.

For instance, partisans of “The Help” are 87 percent female and likely to listen to Marvin Sapp, while “Tree of Life” lovers are 66 percent male, adore Philip Glass, and have hankerings for Moët & Chandon. It may not accurately predict what will win Best Picture, but it should confirm suspicions that Terrence Malick aficionados are snobs.

IMDB’s 2012 Academy Awards Research Trends & Insights

It won’t tell you whether Meryl will prevail against Viola or whether  “The Artist” will win the night’s big prize, but the site lets users know the popularity of the various contenders among movie fans.

In addition to capturing the buzz factor among the best actor and actress nominees, the site has interesting factoids about the worst and lowest rated Oscar nominees in IMDB history.

The Oscars on Social Media

Social media company Banyan Branch cooked up this nifty info-graphic by scouring Twitter and Facebook for likes and tweets related to Oscar nominees.

If its predictions turn out correct, than “The Help” could be in for a surprise upset. Sadly, it does not parse the data enough to indicate which of these social media activities involve voting Academy members, making its data problematic at best.

Not to mention the fact, that as a report in the Los Angeles Times indicates, the graying members of the academy are probably not the most tech-savvy bunch. Fifty four percent of the voters are over the age of 60, the report said.

Oscar Betting and Advertising Guide

Branding firm General Sentiment trolled the Internet looking for positive or negative mentions of the Oscar nominees, then assigns the films and actors betting odds. 

It also assesses the data to pull out what actors and films are “smart money” gambles and what players are “worth a look.” The whole thing looks pretty convincing, until you get to the part about Bérénice Bejo (“The Artist”) beating conventional favorite Octavia Spencer (“The Help”) in the best supporting actress race. Talk about a Twitter-foul.  

Ben's Oscar Forecast

It won't win an Oscar for aesthetics, but this word press site set up by enterprising Harvard student Ben Zauzmer claims to have cooked up a winning mathematical formula to correctly forecast the winners. 

Zauzmer's ingredients include previous Oscar results, other awards shows, current nominations, critic scores, and guild awards. He then applies a liberal dose of matrix algebra. The Ivy League know-how has left him convinced "The Artist" is the film to beat. 

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