Sunday night, Oscar hit the Internet big time.
Web sites have provided Oscar content for the last four years and have recently offered real-time tidbits from the event, but this year the number of online media with on-location reports doubled (from six to 12). Many sites went the extra mile to capitalize on the immediacy of the Internet and its ability to reach an international audience, some with more success than others.
Among the most ambitious sites:
* Oscar.com (http://www.oscar.com), the official academy Web site produced by the ABC Internet Group, featured live video of backstage interviews and a game that required viewers to watch the telecast as they competed against online opponents.
* Entertainment Asylum (http://www.asylum.com), an AOL-owned site, provided red carpet video feed, live chats from backstage and the Miramax party, where a reporter posed questions to celebrities from online participants.
* Film.com (http://www.film.com), a Seattle-based site owned by RealNetworks, presented a live show combining commentary from comedians Peggy Platt and David Teitelbaum with live red carpet video footage. Film.com also forwarded e-mail questions from around the globe to call-in guests including former Oscar winner Cloris Leachman and nominees Sally Kirkland and Justin Henry, among others.
Granted, the Internet is still outnumbered by other media. Ninety-seven print publications, 73 TV outlets and 28 radio stations covered the event. Yet the Web's reach was impressive: Top sites expected from 1.5 million to 2 million visitors Oscar night. In foreign countries, Film.com had affiliates in South America, Australia, Asia and Great Britain provide quick local access to their site.
According to Patricia E. Vance, senior vice president and general manager for ABC Internet Group, the Academy Awards show "is the largest entertainment event on the Web by far," outranking large-scale events such as the Super Bowl and the Olympics.
"Frankly, there's no event that has a broader level of interest than the Oscars," she said.
Of course, the biggest advantage of the Internet is that it's just plain fun. It's immediate. It's interactive. And at times, it's silly.
In the Oscar.com live trivia game, users could guess winners in each category just before they were announced, and then they had to keep watching TV to win. For example, as soon as James Coburn stepped up to receive his best supporting actor statuette, a question popped up on screen asking users about the color of the dress worn by the woman who escorted him off stage. Users stayed engaged throughout the show.
They also got to dish in a world of unbridled gossip on Tinseltown's hottest night. On the Entertainment Asylum site, the chat sometimes had nothing to do with the awards ceremony and everything to do with the stars. "Let's see who our audience has a crush on," an AOL host asked. AOL found out fast who wasn't a heartthrob. "Nicolas Cage is NOT an attractive man," one wag commented. "If he was poor and in a bar . . . you wouldn't look TWICE at him."
Another dissed Tom Hanks because he "needs to shave."
Along with the gossip, there was insider info. While waiting for Roberto Benigni to come backstage for a chat, the Asylum host got an earful from "Private Ryan" editors, who were talking about the upcoming "Star Wars" movie.
Users weighed in with instant responses on the ceremony. Asylum conducted a quick poll after the dance sequence choreographed by Debbie Allen. Results: About 18% loved it, 58% though it was interesting but really weird, and 23% hated it. (And 1% were lost in cyberspace.)
And though surfing was a blast on Oscar night, the technical glitches still haven't been worked out. Among them: Oscar.com's red carpet coverage, which consisted of blurry video with an audio of the drone of helicopters overhead, and at times the servers for Film.com and Entertainment Asylum seemed to be overloaded so that those who tried to go to the site could not get through.
Another bummer: The Film.com site required a specific piece of RealNetworks software to get to the Oscar party coverage; it cost $19.99 for users who didn't already have it.
It was a great night for surfing, but while Internet users were able to get in on the fun and games offered by live programming, the quality of coverage couldn't compare to TV. Still, the Oscars online remain an alternative universe where anyone can get in on the act as long as they're prepared to deal with fledgling technology.