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Do Academy Award Nominations Mean Much for Documentaries?

23 Feb, 2008 By: Billy Gil

No End in Sight

An Academy Award nomination or win can translate into sales for the big categories. Nominees Juno and There Will Be Blood continue to pack theaters long after their debuts, and in 2007, the five best-picture nominees showed domestic box office growth of more than $9 million between the nominations Jan. 23 and the Feb. 25 ceremony, according to Home Media Research.

DVD is no different. In 2007, after nominations were announced Jan. 23, sales of nominee Little Miss Sunshine rose by 60% to 200%, according to Fox. Best-picture winner The Departed landed at No. 1 on the national DVD sales and rental charts upon its Feb. 13 release, with more than 3 million copies sold its first week in stores, high for its theatrical gross.

When it comes to smaller categories, such as the documentary category, the picture gets murkier. But one thing, at least in recent years, is certain: A win means a likely jump in sales.

According to Paramount Home Entertainment, sales of An Inconvenient Truth, the 2007 Academy Award winner for documentary feature, jumped 103% after its win. The title rounded out the 50 top sellers of the year, according to Home Media Research.

While a dramatic sales jump was not immediately seen for March of the Penguins, the 2006 winner, sales for the title remained strong and rose just before and just after the award ceremony, according to Home Media Research.

Those titles, however, had the benefit of Al Gore and a huge theatrical release, respectively. For smaller titles and nominees that didn't win, a nomination means more exposure, but not necessarily big sales.

For the 2007 nominations, announced Jan. 22, the biggest theatrical title was Michael Moore's Sicko (Genius/Weinstein). The title has been on DVD since June 2007, and as such the nomination made for only a slight sales bump, although sales remained relatively steady for the week ended Feb. 17, according to Home Media Research.

Iraq war documentary No End in Sight (Magnolia) has seen a slight bump in sales. Another Magnolia doc, Jesus Camp, was nominated in 2006. That title saw huge sales spikes after nominations were announced, as well as before and after the ceremony. And Magnolia's 2005 nominee Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room saw a similar leap in sales after that ceremony, according to Home Media Research.

Operation Homecoming: Writing The Wartime Experience (from Docurama and New Video Group), another war doc, saw sales nearly flatline before nominations were announced. Sales have now picked up, with possible deals in the works for big-box retailers to carry the title.

“The nomination gives it a little bit of an elevated status, and once there's a win, it's a cinch,” said Emily Santos, VP of sales for New Video. “It becomes kind of a staple … and gets secure placement after that.”

Santos said the promotional push grows after a nomination is announced, from e-mail blasts to placement on endcaps at retail.

The other titles nominated for the 2008 documentary feature, War/Dance from ThinkFilm/Velocity, and Taxi to the Dark Side, from ThinkFilm, have yet to be released on DVD. War/Dance is due on DVD April 15, while Taxi to the Dark Side has not yet been announced.

2008 Documentary Feature Nominees
  • No End in Sight – Magnolia – released on DVD Oct. 30, 2007 – B.O. $1.4 million
  • Sicko – Genius/Weinstein – released on DVD Nov. 6, 2007 – B.O. $24.5 million
  • Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience – New Video Group/Docurama – released on DVD Jan. 15, 2008 – B.O. $0.007 million
  • War/Dance – ThinkFilm/Velocity – due April 15, 2008 – B.O. $0.09 million
  • Taxi to the Dark Side – ThinkFilm – DVD not yet announced – B.O. $0.09 million

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