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Will box-office losers backfire for the Oscars?

Oscar statues stand in a parking lot near the Dolby Theater during preparations ahead of the 87th Academy Awards in Los Angeles, Feb. 19, 2015.
Lucy Nicholson | Reuters

Glamorous gowns and celebrity scandals always give movie fans and star watchers reason to tune in to the Academy Awards. But there's a huge risk facing the Oscars this year: This is the lowest-grossing group of Best Picture nominees since the academy raised the number of nominees to 10 in 2009 in an effort to include more popular films and to draw more viewers to the Oscar telecast.

Big box-office numbers generally drive higher ratings. So this year's batch could spell disappointment for ABC and advertisers.

Just a single Best Picture nominee topped $100 million, "American Sniper," which has grossed more than $300 million in the U.S., more than all the others combined. Americans haven't seen most of this year's nominees, so they are less invested in which film wins top honors.

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In contrast, last year four nominees topped $100 million at the U.S. box office, including blockbuster "Gravity," and the show drew 45 million viewers, its biggest audience in a decade, with massive social media chatter. ABC managed to increase ad rates 8 percent from last year to an average of $1.95 million. Will those ad investments pay off?

Working in the show's favor is new host Neil Patrick Harris, who has about 14 million Twitter followers. Social media in general will help, as last year the Oscars was the most tweeted about nonsporting event of the year.

This year Facebook struck a deal with the Oscars. Sources tell me the social network is giving ABC promotional advertising worth about $2 million, in exchange for the Oscars driving people to Facebook to talk about the show.

The fact that people want to be part of the social watercooler is likely to make the live event more of a must see.

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