Welcome to O2K as in Oscar 2000.
So say the minds behind the Hollywood Stock Exchange, the Santa Monica-based entertainment site that runs a virtual stock market where people can use $2 million in funny money to buy and sell shares of their favorite stars.
Minutes after the Academy Award nominations were announced last week, entertainment-related Web sites like HSX were accessed by millions of movie fans who jumped online to get the scoop. And as more entertainment-obsessed people realize the wealth of information available on the Internet, 2000 will truly be the year Oscar overwhelms online.
"Last year was the first big year and this year is going to be bigger," said Joe Butt, an analyst with Forrester Research. "There are now so many sites covering the Oscars."
The competition among the sites to gain eyeballs is fierce after all, the number of surfers who come to a given site serve to generate ad revenue. For e-commerce sites, the crunch time is the holiday season. For entertainment sites, it's the period between Feb. 15 and the Oscar aftermath coverage on March 27.
Since the Hollywood Stock Exchange posted its Oscar-specific board, the volume of trade has been up by about 60 percent, according to Douglas Scott, senior vice president of product development on the site. The day after the nominations were announced, there were approximately 1.8 billion shares traded.
"It's the Super Bowl of Hollywood," Scott said. "As soon as we put up the Oscar securities, we reached a record trading volume."
The banner ads now running on the sites doing Oscar coverage are clearly keyed to the movie-going, Web-savvy, 18-to-34-year-old demographic. Sponsors for E! Online's coverage include Women.com and Saturn, while Mr. Showbiz has banners from Pets.com.
Jennifer Martel, traffic coordinator for E! Online's advertising department, said that each sponsor for the Web site's Oscar coverage paid between $60,000 to $70,000 for the one-month commitment. In exchange, the sponsors get a tag line on each page with Oscar material, in addition to banner ads and smaller "hot corners." All total, Martel said, the site should bring in $250,000 for its Academy Awards content.
In the month of January, E! Online had just over 3 million users, compared to 1.8 million for Hollywood.com and 955,000 for Mr. Showbiz, according to PC Data, which tracks the number of users each site gets. "All of these numbers will go up during the awards season," said Cameron Meierhoefer, an analyst with PC Data.
Santa Monica-based Hollywood.com promises curtain-to-curtain coverage of the event, including the usually overlooked technical awards and the nominees' luncheon.
Mr. Showbiz, a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Co.'s Go Network, offers extensive bios of all the nominated actors, reviews of all the nominated films, quizzes and polls. (In the "Who got robbed?" poll, Jim Carrey has a substantial lead, with 40.3 percent.) Also included is a link to Oscar.com, the official site for the Academy Awards, which is being shown on ABC, another member of the Disney family.
To drive traffic to its Oscar.com site, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences plugs the Web address in every ad for the awards show.
"The television show and the Web site will cross-promote each other," said Aram Sinnerzh, an analyst at Jupiter Communications. 'That, and the fact that there are more people on the Internet, means the (online) audience can only grow larger and larger."
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