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Academy Awards: What’s an Oscar Really Worth?

Oscar Awards
AP
Oscar Awards

Gold prices are up, but that’s not the only thing that makes Sunday’s Oscar wins more valuable than those in years past.

(Yes, Oscars are made of gold-plated britannium.

But no, don’t expect to see Oscars up for sale on eBay—winners are forbidden from selling them).

Here’s why this year’s Academy Awards could be worth more than ever:

Smaller films = Big Box Office Boost

The smaller the film, the bigger the impact of an Oscar on its box office and home video revenue. And this year’s best picture nominees haven’t had that much commercial success—bringing in less than half the box office success as last year’s crop. The nine best picture nominees have grossed $595 million through Monday. In contrast, last year’s ten best picture nominees grossed $1.294 billion through the Monday before the big event. That makes wins that much more important than ever to studios’ bottom line.

Oscar winners bring in 7.6 percent higher box office return on average than nominees that don’t win, according to IBIS world. On average, winners of Best Picture earned 57 percent of their total revenue before the nominees were announced, 27 percent once they were nominated and more than 15 percent after winning an Oscar. Nominees that didn’t bring home the gold earn just 5 percent of their total take after the awards show.

The Artist
Source: The Weinstein Company
The Artist

That means “The Artist” —the frontrunner for best picture — and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” which have grossed $28 and $31 million respectively are best positioned to benefit from Oscar wins.

The worst performing of the nine nominees is “Tree of Life” – with a $13 million U.S. box office – is no longer in theaters.

Oscar Ads=Win for ABC?

Oscar advertising is amongst the most expensive inventory all year – ABC asked for $1.7 million per 30 second spot this year. ABC may not have actually taken in that much, but the average price for an ad is definitely expected to be up from an average rate of $1.55 million back in 2011, when ABC took in a total of $74.4 million in revenue.

But this year ABC is up against some major challenges. A disappointing performance from Anne Hathaway and James Franco last year brought the second smallest ratings in record, down 23 percent in the past decade, and down 15 percent from five years ago. Plus, the fact that the Oscar nominees have performed so poorly means people will be less inclined to tune in. Ratings generally correlate with the commercial success of nominated films. It makes sense: the fewer people have seen the movies, the less people care.

ABC is trying to counteract these forces with a major social media push—it’ll have people tweeting about what’s happening backstage and red carpet hosts are soliciting Twitter followers for questions to ask celebs on the red carpet.

Based on the Twitter frenzy throughout the Super Bowl, the biggest Twitter event ever, this year’s Oscars are bound to be part of a huge amount of online chatter. That puts that much more pressure on Billy Crystal to score big laughs. If he bombs, he’ll face the wrath of the masses on Twitter.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.