Oscar Monetizes the Two-Screen Experience, But Is It Too Soon?

Creating a second-screen experience to accompany a live broadcast has become a requisite part of putting on any live event, whether it be the Emmys, the Grammys, or even the Super Bowl. So this year, Academy Awards broadcaster ABC (s DIS) and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are truly stepping up, providing unprecedented access to behind-the-scenes material to be enjoyed online while also watching the telecast. But what’s also unprecedented? The fact that there’s a price tag.

Oscar All Access begins its coverage during the red carpet pre-show, with multiple “360 cams” giving users the option to thoroughly examine the gowns and tuxes. Then, coverage shifts to inside the Kodak Theater, where users can switch between 15 cameras of access to the action backstage, and concludes with a live stream from the post-show Governor’s Ball.

It all sounds pretty cool — for one thing, the ability to select camera angles gives the experience an edge on last year’s Emmy Awards, Here’s the catch: All Access costs $4.99. Meanwhile, the Oscar Backstage Pass app for iOS users (s APPL) contains identical content except for the “360 cam” technology, but is priced at $0.99.

Which leads me to ask: Is it too early to start monetizing the two-screen experience? At this stage of adoption, the idea seems completely counterintuitive to the reason for creating that experience for the awards show audience, which is to get more people watching live, and improve the show’s ratings.

Live event broadcasts have become huge ratings hits for networks thanks to the use of multiple screens — the most recent example being the Super Bowl, where social media engagement helped lead to the game’s highest ratings since 1987.

That leads to the disconnect: If the purpose of creating a two-screen experience is to get more people watching, then why would you charge for it, which ensures less engagement than a free service?

It’s not that the Academy and ABC charging for this premium service is a bad idea — it’s just that it may be too early, and it distracts from the primary way that awards shows generate revenue: ad sales. If 100,000 people sign up for All Access, that’s a nice $500,000 for ABC and the Academy to split — or about a third of $1.7 million, the cost of one 30-second ad spot during this year’s broadcast.

It’s worth noting that there is plenty of free content that will be available for Oscar fans switching between screens, including basic red carpet and behind-the-scenes coverage on Oscar.com, as well as fun experiments like the “mominees” selected to Twitter about their nominated offspring during the show. Between the Franco factor and Twitter usage during live events only growing and growing, it seems like a safe bet that ratings this year will be up. But we’ll never know if those ratings could have been even higher, if all of the coverage were available for free.

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