Bookies Corner: Oscars night signals a changing tide for all entertainment

On Monday 28 March, Hollywood returns to the Dolby Theatre to celebrate the 94th Academy Awards. Kicking starting 2022’s entertainment markets, how have bookmakers factored the mass changing viewer habits disrupted by COVID-19 global lockdown?  Can bookmakers trust the critics and judges, as Award contenders point to movies that have been shunned by audiences… 

SBC: Following 2-years hosted under lockdown constraints The 2022 Academy Awards returns to its full capacity – why should punters and bookmakers care about this year’s Oscars? 

Chad Yeomans – Betway

Chad Yeomans (PR Manager @ Betway): The pandemic has changed the way we consume media, perhaps forever, and the Oscars have always celebrated these trends. It may not be as seminal as Gone With The Wind being the first film in colour to win Best Picture, but a victory for Power of the Dog – which would be the first straight-to-streaming film to win – would represent just as much of a shift in the movie industry.

Look out also for an intriguing betting heat in the Best Actress category, one which is a tough conundrum for UK viewers as both favourites star in biopics of people not well known outside America. Nicole Kidman’s Lucille Ball from I Love Lucy is perhaps marginally more familiar than Jessica Chastain’s televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker, but neither film would expect huge audiences here so the betting market may be a key guide to this major award.

SBC: With box office takings dwindling, and following an awards season marred by controversies – Is this year’s Academy Awards the hardest entertainment market to predict?

Matt Shaddick – Smarkets

Matt Shaddick (Head of Political Markets @ Smarkets): In some ways, the rise of major movies being produced by streaming services has made it easier than ever to get a handle on the Oscars. The two frontrunners for Best Picture are available on Netflix and Apple TV and will likely get a much bigger pre-Oscar audience than they might have done with a cinema-only release. I think you can forget about there being any Hollywood bias against these films when it comes to the awards, as might have been the case three or four years ago.

From a betting point of view, it’s good that we have a competitive best picture race (seemingly between The Power of The Dog and CODA), as around two-thirds of the traded volume at Smarkets is on that category.

A couple of weeks back, every single one of the 23 awards on offer had an odds-on favourite, but now we have four markets that have moved back to a more competitive state: Best Picture, Original Screenplay, Adapted Screenplay and Editing are all tough to call.

Of the four acting categories, only Leading Actress looks in much doubt. Although Jessica Chastain is now odds-on, you could make a case for all five runners. If there is going to be a big surprise on the night, I think it could be here. 

Anthony Cousins – Kindred Group

SBC: ‘Power of the Dog’ a film acclaimed by critics but shunned by audiences leads the Academy’s ‘Best Picture’ market – is another Oscars upset on the cards and can bookmakers trust the critics?

Anthony Cousins (Head of Sportsbook Commercial Relationships @ Kindred Group): Shunned by audiences, but not by our customers, with over 40% of bets placed coming on the Jane Campion movie. With odds now as low as 1.30 it looks very hard to beat, although similar and lower odds have been overturned in recent years with Moonlight overcoming hot favourite LaLaLand in 2017 and Parasite overcoming 1917 in 2020.

In both cases, there was a strong consensus on who the second favourite was and with that comes enough momentum in academy votes to overturn the favourite – essentially it becomes a two-horse race.

This year however any second favourite vote is likely to be split with both Belfast and Coda equal in the market and likely to cannibalise any potential voting shocks.

Did bookmakers ever trust the critics? As voting for the Academy awards is still largely a niche group of members, their ways of voting are hard to gauge and it is really the other ceremonies in the build-up to the Oscars that provide a barometer of Hollywood voting intent.

We tend to use the outcomes of the SAGs, DGAs, WGAs, PGAs, etc… ultimately the writers, producers and directors voting award ceremonies over the ones more focused on critic votes.

The difference in this post covid ceremony world is that many of these critically acclaimed films which no one ever went to see at the cinema (last year’s winner Nomadland for example) does now have the ability to attract audiences in alternative ways as they are largely released at the same time on streaming services.

So the box office measurement is now less relevant then ever in swaying any opinion and films such as Power Of The Dog appearing in Top 10 streamed lists gives the critical acclaim validation and potentially becomes an even stronger barometer of Oscar success if this new release pattern continues in the streaming era.



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