Who in the world watches the Oscars?

The Academy Awards program claims to have billions of viewers in hundreds of countries. The truth is somewhat different.

Published March 22, 2000 10:31AM (EST)

Rwandans, Bosnians and Indonesians are dying ... to see what Gwyneth Paltrow will wear to the 72nd annual Academy Awards! But despair not, citizens of Kigali, Sarajevo and Jakarta. Regardless of the hardships you've had to endure over the past few years -- the massacres, ethnic cleansings and political upheavals -- you will get to see the Academy Awards in all their overlong glory -- provided, of course, you have television sets. And electricity.

Yes, the world is watching. Sort of.

The Academy Awards and the Golden Globes both license the rights to their programs to other nations around the world. Both of these awards programs can get very self-congratulatory about the alleged billions of people tuning in. These numbers are hopelessly exaggerated, usually the product of adding together each broadcast-licensed nation's entire population, rather than an estimated, Nielsen-like figure approximating actual viewers. Even if the Academy Awards were to be broadcast in China and India -- which, as of press time, they were not to be this year -- it certainly would not mean that every citizen from Bombay to Beijing would be able to tune in the program. Or even give a crap.

Still, these two major Hollywood shows have turned the planet into their own private, John Travolta-less Battlefield Earth, each apparently attempting to corner -- and license -- different parts of the world. Using distribution documents obtained exclusively by Salon from both awards shows' personnel, I was able to determine exactly which nations had received licensing rights to which shows.

The Academy Awards are dominant in the European market. The show is licensed to be broadcast in 33 of the 36 European countries that are members of the United Nations (plus Switzerland and Vatican City, which are not U.N. member states), failing to crack only elusive Andorra, Albania and Liechtenstein.

The Golden Globes, on the other hand, which broadcast their 2000 awards in February, have had their problems with Europe, having licensed their show to only 18 of those same 38 markets. (The Globes, for some reason, were able to break through that tricky Liechtenstein demographic.)

But the Globes more than lived up to their name in Latin America and Asia, where the show kicked some major Oscar booty. The double G's were broadcast in all 12 South American countries, all seven Central American countries and 32 of 36 Asian countries (plus non-U.N. member states Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macao). Oscar, on the other hand, got absolutely clobbered in those markets, as of press time securing licensing agreements from only seven South American states, two Central American countries and eight Asian markets (plus Hong Kong).

Anyone looking to use Africa as a rubber match would first have to sort out a few confusing factors. Of the 53 countries constituting the Organization of African Unity, the Academy Awards will be seen in at least 21, including Rwanda and Burkina Faso. But another entry on the Academy Awards roster lists "Africa (English Speaking)" as one entity, making it impossible to determine exactly how many African countries will hold their collective breath until they learn whether it is Jude Law or Haley Joel Osment who gets the nod for best supporting actor. The Golden Globes were broadcast in 34 of Africa's 53 countries, straight up. And while the Globes were not seen in Rwanda, surely Libyan and Liberian viewers rejoiced in the streets as they watched Jim Carrey snag best actor in a musical or comedy.

One thing the staffs of both awards programs have in common is a shocking ignorance of world geography. The Oscar people apparently did not receive the memo that "Zaire" is now Congo, "Holland" is actually Netherlands and "Eire" is, in the English-speaking world, pronounced "Ireland." The Globes may have an even worse geopolitical track record, referring as they do to licensees "British Guiana" (which has been known simply as Guyana since it achieved independence in 1966) and two states listed individually as "Tobago" and "Trinidad," which have actually been the one state of Trinidad and Tobago since 1962.

The Globes might also want to invest in a spell-checker program, as they incorrectly listed licensees "Columbia" (Colombia with an "o"), "Comores" (the Comoro Islands), "Nambia" (Namibia), "Luxemburg" (Luxembourg) and "Surinam" (Suriname).

But at least the Globes don't seem to have padded their stats, as Oscar has, with dubious "countries" such as "Alto Adige" (a primarily German-speaking Italian province), "Capodistria" (a primarily Italian-speaking city in western Slovenia, now known as Koper), the "Cook Islands" and "Niue" (both Oceanic territories of New Zealand), "Dom Tom" (a collective name for the odd French island territory, as near as I can determine; an ABC representative who requested anonymity said, "I can't tell you exactly where it is"), "Fijian Islands" (listed separately from and in addition to "Fiji"), "Puerto Rico" (not even a state, much less a country) and "Vatican City" (the pope, presumably, wants his O-TV).

No one representing either the Academy Awards or ABC would respond on the record to these peculiarities. Even off the record, matters were difficult to confirm. Last year, the 71st annual Academy Awards show was broadcast to 143 countries. This year's tally, as of press time, was 130. But no one would elaborate on which countries had fallen off Oscar's atlas.

By Lance Gould

Lance Gould is a deputy features editor at the New York Daily News. He is also the author of "Shagadelicaaly Speaking: The Words and World of Austin Powers."

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