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Controversy vs. Conversation: Analyzing Oscar Talk

Posted by Steve Roy on February 28, 2015

My favorite bar in my old neighborhood used to have an Oscars night party. They’d print their own ballots and determine winners by the volume of cheering as each nominee was read aloud. That was fun but it was the discussion at my end of the bar that I enjoyed more. I could hear more and I learned more.

With this in mind and Oscar night upon us, we did a little number crunching and analysis to look at how people on Disqus are talking about this year’s nominees. Working with Temnos, a company that specializes in analyzing big piles of words and numbers, we analyzed over 200,000 comments and 850,000 votes across 3,000 articles and blog posts from January 1 to February 6. Here’s what we found.

Movie Politics Dominate

When examining what movies generated the most attention across Disqus, American Sniper and Selma dominated all coverage of the films nominated for best picture. Those two films alone accounted for 82% of page views. They had held a stronghold on comment volume as well. Across the US, American Sniper was the most talked about film. In only five states: Georgia, Mississippi, Rhode Island (the small but strong state you can barely see in green below), South Dakota, and Wyoming was it surpassed by Selma.

American Sniper and Selma Map

Obviously, the political debates and controversies attached to these two movies generated a ton of noise, but when we account for the political debate, and look at average weighed discussion volumes again (this is called “normalizing” according to statistics nerds), a very different set of interests emerge across the country:

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Optimism Score: So Who’s Going to Win?

To see if movie discussions on Disqus could actually predict which film would win, we went crazy and created something called an “Optimism Score.” For each film, we measured the percentage of comments where someone said they think that film will or should win best picture vs. comments that said that film should not or would not win. (Got it? It took me a while.) Overall, 3,300 comments were examined here as part of this particular analysis.

Here again, Boyhood is the film Disqus users are most optimistic about winning best picture with Birdman not far behind. Here are the top 5:

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We did the same thing for best actor, best actress and best director: the big predicted winners there are Michael Keaton, Julianne Moore and Richard Linklater respectively. (Personally, I think Keaton should get a retroactive award for Mr. Mom. “Yeah, 220, 221, whatever it takes.”)

LA and NYC: Filmmakers vs. Tastemakers

We next looked at how two cities are talking about these films: LA and New York. We thought this would be cool because we made a small (maybe huge?) assumption that many of the actual Oscar voters either live there or are influenced more by what people in those areas have to say. (If you are an actual Oscar voter, please correct me in the comments below. We will be buds forever.)

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Grand Budapest Hotel, Theory of Everything and Boyhood had the biggest differences between commenters in LA and NYC. And I have my own theory as to why. Grand Budapest is directed by Wes Anderson. All of his movies have a signature, visual style of storytelling. Boyhood is a coming of age story, most recognized for the fact that it was filmed over a 12 year period. Both of these films are marked by their production approaches. LA is home to movie making.

On the other hand, Theory of Everything is a classic biopic about Stephen Hawking. NYC is the media capital of the world. A movie is much more likely to be reviewed there than made. New Yorkers just love a good story, well told.

Likely Ladies and Likely Gentlemen

Finally, we wanted to look at this topic across genders. Using Disqus requires no declaration of gender, so we had to be somewhat creative. We developed a likelihood of gender based on the detection of names and nicknames. So "Bob" and "dude" would be likely male while "girl" and "Jane" would likely be female. (Apologies to dudes named Jane and girls named Bob.)

Overall, 54% of comments were from likely males, 46% from likely females. For most movies, the gender balance followed this overall split.  However, as can be seen below, females commented far more on both of the "tortured genius" movies (Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game), while males commented more on Grand Budapest Hotel.

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Putting together the geographical and gender differentiation, the only other conclusion I can draw is that "likely men in LA" and "likely women in NY" would have a great debate about Grand Budapest Hotel and Theory of Everything. If anyone wants to moderate that discussion, let me know!

PS - If movies are your thing, check out a new channel on Disqus: Plot Threads

PPS - Here’s an infographic summarizing much of this.

Read the follow up post for more behind our findings. If you're interested in Disqus data, head over to our Data Solutions page to learn more.