Oscar Goes to Second Screen as ABC Boosts Big Night Online

User feedback helps tilt retooled production and app toward social content
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The glitz and glamour of Hollywood filmmaking will once again be taking center stage with ABC’s Feb. 24 telecast of the 85th Academy Awards. Behind the scenes, ABC’s digital coverage for Oscars.com and the Backstage Pass app highlight just how far once-lowly online productions for the Web and mobile have advanced in recent years.

For starters, ABC’s creation of additional Oscars digital content has become a major production, drawing on a crew and talent totaling 71 people. There will be 17 camera locations, two stages, and for the first time, digital production will have its own truck at the venue.

The event illustrates how producers are using data and feedback inherent in digital media to refine their efforts. “We’ve learned so much about second-screen experiences and how to serve the audience with content that is meaningful,” says Chris Thomes, VP of digital media studios at the Disney/ABC Television Group.

That has produced some notable changes in how ABC has approached the Oscars production. Digital producers have often assumed that audiences want more choices and interactivity on digital media, and there will be a host of additional online content this year. But in the last few years, ABC has discovered that audiences are also interested in a hosted experience guiding viewers through the event.

“You can give people too many choices,” Thomes says. “We’ve found the audience responds to a directed experience, and we’ve learned to give them something that they could expect from the ABC network, which is a curated, well-thought-through entertainment experience.”

To help achieve that last year, ABC hired a director for the digital production; this year, they are expanding those efforts by offering a Digital Lounge, with talent on two stages, for the main hosted feed.

“[In the] Digital Lounge, one of the hosts will be actually reading the social media tea leaves and reporting on what is trending on social networks,” says Karin Gilford, senior VP of digital media for ABC Television Networks.

Because the production gets extensive data on how many people are using alternative camera angles via the Backstage Pass app or online, ABC is changing some of the alternative camera feeds available. User feedback also led to a decision to cut the live streaming of the Governors Ball after the awards ceremony and redeploy those resources elsewhere.

“We thought it was great original footage, but after seven hours, the audience was tired and traffic fell of significantly,” says Laura Allen, senior manager, current programming for Disney/ABC Digital Studio.

Other notable new developments include an Android version of the Backstage Pass app, an updated Apple version and an even bigger emphasis on social media, Gilford says.

Sports Media Technologies has built the custom graphics application for the Oscars that will allow ABC’s digital production to display social media trends. As part of a sponsorship with Samsung, social media feeds will appear on Samsung displays on the preshow stage, Allen explains. “The hosts will have Samsung Galaxy tablets running the application that they can use to control the application and control what is on the monitors behind them,” she says.

The production will also expand the ondemand clips ABC makes available online. Using technology from SnappyTV, ABC will be able to post clips from both the broadcast and the digital production within two minutes to Oscars.com. “The implementation of VOD is really important for driving the social conversation,” says Thomes.

To bring that all together, the production will use NEP’s Denali Gold truck. The 53-foot expando trailer comes equipped with a Sony 8000 switcher, EVS XT2 video server, the EVS Xfile, Sony XDCam Blu-ray record decks, a Studer Vista 5 Digital Audio Console, Reidel intercom system and the Chyron HyperX with Lyric Pro 8.1 graphic system.

Sony HDC-1500R cameras will be widely used, with two at each of the hosted stages. In addition, ABC will draw on footage from eight of Camera Corp.’s Q-Ball cameras that are remotely controlled by operators in the mobile truck. “They can turn and zoom just like any other camera but they have no footprint, so we’re able to deliver a view from exclusive areas without having to cause a big scene,” says Allen.

E-mail comments to gpwin@oregoncoast.com and follow him on Twitter: @GeorgeWinslow

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