If you’ve followed Oscar “predictions,” you’ll notice it’s not so easy to actually predict the outcome of the awards.
But experts, gamblers, and fans alike all attempt it every year anyway.
The methods used for predicting elections, sports, and economics cannot be used for the Oscars because little or no data exists, Walt Hickey, FiveThirtyEight’s lead lifestyle writer, told Business Insider. (Hickey has a background in mathematics and used to cover politics and finance for Business Insider.)
“You want to be able to poll people or have previous data… With the Oscars, that doesn’t exist. You’re talking about [more than 6,000] people [in the Academy’s membership]. We don’t know who they are, they are deliberately obscured, they don’t like to talk, and there’s really no way to just ask how they’re feeling.”
FiveThirtyEight, ESPN’s data-driven site, assigns points to Oscar nominees based on what other awards they have been nominated for and/or won during the awards season. Certain awards are worth more points depending on how predictive they have been in the past and if they were given by likely voting Academy members.
“We don’t want to call it a ‘predict the Oscars winner‘ model because we’re sceptical,” Hickey said. But the model is “pretty much set in stone.”
“The reason we’ve kept with this model is that it’s a very simple model,” he said. “It’s pretty unsophisticated when it comes to the nuance that goes on in the campaign. It just looks at the W’s and L’s. For some of them, it’s going to be really helpful to gauge how far ahead things are… and to figure out what the state of the race is. That’s really all we try to do.”
FiveThirtyEight also examines other models to try and “find folks who think that they have a way to, if not predict the Oscars, at least get a little bit better at it.” They chose eight different models to help gauge the race in a sort of “bakeoff.”
“Every year, one or two categories are hard… [and] if someone nails an upset, that’s someone to pay attention to in later years,” he said.
As for how to improve Oscar prediction, new technology could help.
“I’d be excited to get a proxy on how much different groups are spending on ‘For Your Consideration’ campaigns,” Hickey said. “One idea is isolating areas that have disproportionate Academy participation like Beverly Hills and see what they’re looking for.”
But, he added, “There’s no silver bullet yet.”
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