For your remote consideration: How Hollywood trades are cashing in on studios vying for awards during coronavirus crisis

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It’s Hollywood’s favorite time of year —awards season — and film studios and TV networks are allocating their marketing budgets to reach a rather small, but influential, subset of the entertainment industry: awards voters.

Normally these efforts, called “for your consideration” (FYC) campaigns, would include many in-person screenings, cocktail parties and Q&As with high profile celebrities that convene the around 50,000 awards voters in Hollywood.

In the time of coronavirus, however, studios vying for votes are leaning more on trade publications like Variety, TheWrap, The Hollywood Reporter and Deadline (the later two declined to comment for the story) and publications with a Hollywood-focus like the Los Angeles Times, to promote the projects they hope will win anything from best picture at the Academy Awards to outstanding lead actor or actress in a comedy series at the Emmys.

“The live, in-person piece is critical to the race,” said Sharon Waxman, CEO and editor-in-chief of TheWrap, adding that it’s an opportunity for voters to exchange ideas before casting votes. But as that cannot safely happen right now, “trade publications are much more important in the award space this year,” she said.

Publishers are hosting the virtual events to facilitate those conversations online. But this year, the custom campaigns on all mediums from podcasts to print inserts are designed to capture the valuable voter eyeballs pursued by the swarms of online content published during the pandemic.

“The amount of shows vying for your attention has increased, forcing advertising to extend from a timeframe perspective and also experiment with new ways to engage the audience,” said the Los Angeles Times’ chief revenue officer Josh Brandau. “The need [for content] to be stickier has never been more necessary.”

In January, TheWrap hosted 40 virtual film screenings for film studio advertising clients, none of which had fewer than 20,000 people on the live streams, Waxman said. Not all of the viewers were voters, she said, but the online events had a much larger scale than any of the traditionally staged in-person events would be able to host. 

In addition to virtual events, Waxman said that FYC campaigns also include digital advertising for the site’s editorial awards, which represents a larger portion of the publisher’s FYC revenue than the virtual events. Waxman would not disclose the exact amount of revenue FYC advertising brings in for the company.

Usually the fourth quarter is a bigger time for spend in the FYC category, Waxman said. But with the Oscars getting pushed back two months, spend on awards promotion did not truly start until January. “Everyone is having a great Q1 for sure,” she added. 

Though Variety is one of three major Hollywood trades owned by Penske Media (THR and Deadline are the other two), it is the only brand with a content studio, which it launched in 2017, according to CMO Dea Lawrence. And the studio has played a special role in Variety’s FYC content business this year, allowing it to do extensive print and digital advertorial projects, including building a landing site and a digital and print content package for Amazon’s “One Night in Miami…” that ended up being the most multifaceted deal the content studio has done in the FYC category to date.

Lawrence would not disclose the total number of FYC campaigns that Variety ran in the 2019/2020 awards season versus this season. David Cohen, the senior producer of Variety Content Studio, said that this year his team has sold two FYC branded content advertorial campaigns so far, with about two months left to go before the Oscars to potentially sell more. Last season the content studio sold more than double this year’s total so far of FYC branded content campaigns.

What’s also different about this year is that a lot of the spend is coming from streaming-based studios. Netflix and Amazon have been “consistently big spenders” in the FYC category, according to the Los Angeles Times’ Brandau. Both Variety and TheWrap also noted that they have seen more spending coming from distributors including Apple TV+ and HBO Max.

Studios, like Warner Brothers and Paramount, that rely on theaters for audience engagement, have rescheduled releases to when films can have a safer theatrical debut, leaving fewer contenders for FYC campaigns. The pandemic has also limited the number of shows and movies that were able to be in production, Lawrence said, and therefore, there are fewer competing for awards and fewer spending on campaigns.

The Los Angeles Times’s focus this year was extending partnerships with studios — from launch campaigns to FYC campaigns, according to Brandau.

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For example, the LA Times started a branded content push around Apple TV+’s comedy series “Ted Lasso” nine months ago when it premiered. Rather than just returning to that partnership during awards season, Brandau said his team and Apple continually ran ads for that show throughout the year in order to keep it fresh in voters’ and viewers’ minds.

He expects the award season window to look different in future years to include more evergreen branded content that falls within the FYC category, but is engaging enough that it can serve as an advertising tactic for non-voter readers later in the year as well.

One executive who is familiar with how FYC brand deals are conducted but asked to remain anonymous said that the prime clients that buy custom content campaigns during award season are the cusp films and shows that know they are not shoo-ins.

“The films that think ‘We’re bound to be nominated for best picture for all the awards we want,’ they don’t buy custom content,” the executive said. “And the films that know they do not have a chance at winning only buy if they have another agenda, like talent relations; they may have contracts with talent that require them to put a full effort into a campaign.”

FYC campaigns have positive correlations to earning awards, however. Last year, 40 of Variety’s clients earned an award nomination and 14 won an award, according to Variety’s Cohen.

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