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Ellen DeGeneres took a selfie with attendees during Sunday’s Oscars.

Robert Gauthier • Los Angeles Times,

Social media thanked for helping Oscars achieve audience gold

  • Article by: Scott Collins Los Angeles Times
  • March 5, 2014 - 1:26 PM

The TV ratings were up, but some people wondered if Ellen DeGeneres overdid it with all the social media at the Oscars 2014.

Sunday’s 86th Academy Awards telecast on ABC broke with tradition and reverse-engineered itself for the Twitter generation, with host DeGeneres returning after a seven-year hiatus to order in pizza as a joke for the attendees and, in the night’s most familiar image, tweeting out a selfie posed with Bradley Cooper, Meryl Streep, Angelina Jolie and other stars.

The gambit appears to have worked: An average of 43 million total viewers tuned in to TV’s biggest awards show, according to Nielsen. That was up 6 percent compared with last year’s much-criticized ceremony hosted by “Family Guy” overseer Seth MacFarlane. ABC estimated that nearly 72 million viewers overall watched at least six minutes of the program.

In the key demographic of viewers ages 18 to 49 that largely determines the rates advertisers pay for commercial time, the Oscars earned a 12.9 rating, essentially flat with last year’s 13.0. Among men under age 35, the ceremony climbed 4 percent; it was up 8 percent with teens.

But it was in the world of Twitter and social media sharing where these Oscars — beamed live from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood — really shone. During the telecast, 11.2 million tweets poured forth from 2.8 million unique users, according to Social Guide — a 75 percent increase from last year’s activity.

In taking her selfie with Streep and the others, DeGeneres invited viewers to retweet the image. It became the first image to be retweeted more than 2 million times, briefly crashing the microblogging platform. After such a stunt, the ultimate Best Picture win for the historical epic “12 Years a Slave” seemed almost anticlimactic.

“That was really gold, that was beautiful,” Steve Minichini, chief innovation and growth officer at ad firm TargetCast, said of the star-studded selfie.

“It was a great example of how social media can be incorporated into a live telecast, encouraging viewers to tune into the show and take part in it,” said Brad Adgate, an analyst for Horizon Media in New York.

Of course, it’s hardly certain that social media deserve the credit for Sunday’s viewership gain. “Gravity,” one of the Best Picture nominees, was a bona fide box-office hit, grossing more than $270 million in North America alone. The promise of celebrities such as Sandra Bullock, Brad Pitt and Jolie striding through the aisles at the Dolby didn’t hurt the tune-in, either.

The Oscar producers sounded satisfied Monday.

“Our experiences with producing the Oscars last year and then ‘The Sound of Music Live’ in December showed us the impact of social media and real-time viewership on ratings,” producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan wrote in a joint statement. “Fortunately for us, not only is Ellen a fantastic entertainer, she is extremely adept at using her social media platforms to expand and engage her fans. ... It seems our plan worked out very well indeed!”

But in a paradox that points out the difficulties in trying to appeal to audiences on multiple media platforms these days, the Twitter stunts may not have necessarily made for great TV, Minichini added.

“From a social media standpoint, it was a huge win,” he said. “But it was really geared for social media. It made for a boring live telecast.”

© 2014 Star Tribune