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Putting Stock in Oscar

The Hollywood Stock Exchange is dead on when it comes to predicting Academy Award winners, independent research shows.

By Maria Godoy, TechTV News
March 22, 2001

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The glitz and drama that is Oscar night is almost here again, and everyone from professional critics to the average Joe on the street has an opinion on which actors and films will take home the golden statuette Sunday.

But if you really want to get the inside track on this year's winners and losers, head online.

The Hollywood Stock Exchange (HSX) -- a virtual game market in which users can "buy" and "sell" fantasy stocks and bonds tied to the popularity of specific celebrities and movies -- has an impressive track record when it comes to predicting the winners of Tinseltown's most coveted prize.

"We've been selling securities in the Academy Awards since 1997," says Michael O'Rorke, vice president of content and programming for HSX. "We've had a lot of success."

The company offers its 730,000 registered users a chance to "invest" in the nominees for Oscar's top eight most prestigious categories -- Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Adapted Screenplay. This year, HSX is also giving its traders the option of putting money on the movie that'll take home the most awards.

Impressive track record

HSX traders are quite often right on the money, says David Pennock, a scientist with the NEC Research Institute in Princeton, New Jersey. Pennock recently published a study in the journal Science suggesting that online "play-money" markets like HSX offer surprisingly accurate predictions.

"All eight of the highest-priced nominee stocks won the Oscars last year," he said. "The prices of stocks and bonds are very much in proportion to the likelihood of winning."

Previous studies have already shown that real markets that track specific industries are valuable forecasting tools, Pennock notes. HSX, he says, is good at picking Academy favorites because the type of people attracted to the game tend to be entertainment-savvy movie buffs -- not unlike the members of the Academy itself.

Some might argue that picking Oscar winners isn't all that hard, since the Academy often tends to vote for mainstream favorites. But every now and then, a long-shot nominee does take home the golden man -- and HSX has been amazingly adept at spotting these upsets weeks in advance, O'Rorke says.

For example, last year most pundits were confident Annette Benning would garner the Best Actress award. But at HSX, the smart money was riding on the winner, Hilary Swank, for her gender-bending role in "Boys Don't Cry" for weeks before the big show.

Other upsets predicted by HSX traders include Kim Basinger's Best Supporting Actress win for her portrayal of a troubled prostitute in 1997's "LA Confidential." Most industry watchers had been betting the Academy would give the prize to Gloria Stuart, a vestige of Old Hollywood viewed as a sentimental favorite for her role in "Titanic."

And this year's winners are...

This year, HSX traders are favoring Russell Crowe to take Best Actor for "Gladiator" -- which is also a far-and-away favorite for Best Picture.

But when it comes to the total number of Oscars a film will garner, sleeper hit "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" has leapt up ahead of former category-leader "Gladiator" in the week leading up to the ceremony. The martial arts masterpiece is up for a total of 10 awards, and its director, Ang Lee, who's already received the same honors from the Director's Guild, is HSX's Best Director choice.

Although Ridley Scott's swashbuckling epic is nominated for a dozen Oscars, HSX traders think he's got slim-to-no chance of stealing the Best Director prize from Lee.

Other HSX predictions include Julia Roberts winning Best Actress for "Erin Brockovich" and Benicio del Toro running away with Best Supporting Actor honors for "Traffic," a movie also pegged to win the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar.

Oscar shockers

O'Rorke says HSX traders foresee two major upsets in the big eight categories this year. Although the Screen Actors Guild -- long considered a significant indicator of Oscar voting -- honored Judi Dench as this year's Best Supporting Actress, HSX traders are betting heavily on Kate Hudson for her performance as a rock groupie in "Almost Famous."

The '70s-era rock 'n' roll tale based on the life of director Cameron Crowe is also expected to steal Best Original Screenplay honors from "You Can Count on Me." Until HSX came onto the scene, the latter film, which netted a screenplay award this year from the Writer's Guild of America, was considered a sure thing.

If you don't agree with the Academy's picks, HSX offers you a chance to make your voice heard in Hollywood. Earlier this month, the company launched HSX Research. The division takes data gathered from the HSX virtual market and sells it to production studios looking for guidance on which projects are likely to hit it big at the box office.

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