Last year's red carpet at the Oscars. (Bryan Chan, Los Angeles…)
Think of it as "Oscars after Dark."
In a move that combines elements of society's obsession over celebrities with the Internet's enabling of webcam voyeurism, viewers of the Academy Awards ceremony for the first time will get the kind of access — for a price — previously reserved for tuxedoed and bejeweled members of the Hollywood elite.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and broadcast network ABC are unhooking the velvet rope on the Oscar.com website to provide live video streams of usually hidden aspects of Oscar night on Feb. 27, including celebrities mingling at a lobby bar, hair and makeup artists applying a final gloss to presenters before they take the stage and awards winners gliding into the post-ceremony celebration, the Governors Ball.
It's an effort by the academy to hold the attention of a nation of dedicated multi-taskers, three-quarters of whom are either online, yakking on phones or sending text messages while watching television, according to a new survey from Deloitte's media & entertainment group.
"We all know that more and more people who are watching TV are also engaging with some other devices — whether a computer or an iPad or a smart phone," said Ric Robertson, Motion Picture Academy's executive administrator. "So, what can we serve up to them to keep them engaged with the telecast, to provide a complementary experience?"
This second-screen experience is not just a bid to retain younger, more tech-savvy viewers. It's also an experiment by the producers to see if they can wring more money out of viewers by getting them to pay a fee for more exclusive online content. The academy and ABC will charge $4.99 for the "All Access" feature, which provides live feeds from 28 cameras positioned on the red carpet, inside the Kodak Theatre and backstage, as well as at the ball.
Asked whether Hollywood stars would balk at the webcam scrutiny, Robertson said it's no different from the photographers who swarm the event, capturing candid moments. Moreover, the producers are going to ensure a level of decorum: "There aren't going to be any bathroom cams. We draw the line somewhere," he said.
An Oscar Backstage Pass application for the Apple iPad, iPhone and iPod touch also went on sale Friday for 99 cents.
"The Backstage Pass app is one of the many ways that we are using digital technology to redefine the Oscar experience this year," said Albert Cheng, Disney/ABC Television Group's executive vice president of digital media, in a statement. "We want to offer an experience to viewers that allows them to feel like they are there with their favorite nominees and be able to see the stars mingle at this prestigious event."
Robertson said the idea for the Oscar webcams came at the urging of one of the academy's governor's, Pixar Animation guru John Lasseter.
"He's been pushing us for several years to really blow it out and do something like this," Robertson said. "It was to a large degree at his instigation that we sort of did a reboot, with tremendous support of Albert Cheng," he added, sounding a bit like an Oscar winner crediting everyone for an award.
One technology analyst expressed skepticism that people will pay for the privilege of Internet rubber-necking.
"(Some) people would pay that for a behind-the-scenes look at the Victoria's Secret fashion show, but not the Oscars," said Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey, in an e-mail. "The idea of giving people a second-screen activity is the right one, though. People want to look up clips, see information, possibly even vote on outcomes before they are announced.
But if the experience is untested, it's impossible to convince people to pay for it."