EXCLUSIVE: Paramount’s announcement on Tuesday that it was teaming with Deluxe Entertainment Services Group to become the first major studio to stream its awards consideration films online made news and tech-challenged voters nervous. (So far, it is a pilot program for the Visual Effects Society; a Paramount source told me they were selected because they are deemed the most likely to be able to figure out how to do it.) But this isn’t the only awards-season noise the newly aggressive Deluxe has been making this month. Another of their moves even raised eyebrows among several rank-and-file Academy voters.
Last week, some concerned Academy members contacted me regarding an emailed letter they had received from Deluxe Media Management asking for confirmation of their contact information and directing them to a detailed survey of the members’ personal details in their database. A bolded note near the bottom warned: “PLEASE NOTE: We must receive verification of your contact information before screeners or other materials can be sent.” This letter was preceded by an introductory email a week earlier telling members that Deluxe was the “preferred industry partner for distribution of awards consideration materials” and would be sending a subsequent email instructing them how to update their contact information and that their privacy would be respected and info remain confidential. The second letter began by saying:
Dear AMPAS Member,
Since 2003, Deluxe Media Management has been producing, manufacturing and fulfilling watermarked and regular DVD screeners for our studio clients. On behalf of our studio clients, Deluxe also distributes screening calendars and various awards materials to AMPAS members worldwide. Please take a moment to confirm your contact information is current in our database. This will ensure timely dielivery of your awards consideration materials.
Nowhere is this letter do they identify who those studio clients are, and some AMPAS members I have talked to were concerned about being solicited directly by an outside vendor requesting personal information. But due to the wording of the letter, they were worried they wouldn’t get screeners if they didn’t comply. Because the Academy does not participate in making its list available for the purpose of awards mailings, each studio and distributor has over the years created their own list or hired awards consultants who have one. It’s big business for people who have a good list because in terms of Oscar campaigns, they are considered like gold and hotly sought-after. Studios and distribs annually attempt to update it through different means including trade ads requesting member address changes and information about new members. I know one top consultant who combs the obits each day, crossing deceased members off their list. The Academy lists are a very sensitive area since these email and snail-mail addresses and phone numbers belong to some very high-profile people and are as rigorously protected by each studio as if it were CIA information. Traditionally these lists are provided by each studio and distrib to their fulfillment house with the expectation that they will mail materials only to those the studio indicates (in some cases, members opt out of mailings and inform the studio). They are often asked to sign nondisclosure agreements.
“I am very concerned about security with my list and demand that an NDA be signed by the fulfilllment house I use and they are only to use my list,” said one major studio awards consultant and longtime Academy member I contacted — who was not a client of Deluxe but had received the email and wondered about the motivation. “It seems to me like they are trying to create their own master list combining names from all of their clients’ Academy lists and maybe eventually using it to attract new clients who want access to Oscar voters.” Another studio employee said they knew of at least one instance in which their list was used for purposes other than their own mailings, but “what can you really do about it?” Yet another consultant said they don’t want to take away from what Deluxe does (“it’s a good company”) and that maybe by combining names from the different client lists they can reach more voters.
Another longtime awards consultant/Academy member was more blunt: “I have talked to members on both coasts who are concerned about this because nowhere in their letter do they actually list who their clients are and are asking members to blindly comply with their personal information or risk not getting screeners. What if they don’t send it back? Does that mean Deluxe is going to cut these people that were on our lists?” The consultant points out that Deluxe obviously had to get Academy email addresses from their clients’ lists in order to even send the letter. “How do I know who they are gonna sell my information to?”
Along those lines, a newer Academy member who brought the email to Deadline’s attention worried that Deluxe or others with this info might sell it to an outside party like Porsche or some other commercial enterprise that would love a way to have direct contact with the industry’s most elite players. Is this just paranoia or over-reaction on the part of certain members? All I talked to agreed they had never before received a mailing like this from a vendor, and indeed I have learned this was the first time Deluxe has attempted to collate sensitive Academy voter information into one central list. And it’s not just an email or home address they are tyring to obtain. Once inside the password-restricted area, members are asked for several things including preferences for DVD and screenplay format; if they wish to access screeners from the Internet; as well as mobile and home/work phone numbers and guild affiliations.
When first contacted, Deluxe Entertainment Services Group CEO and president Cyril Drabinsky, an Academy member himself, said he thought this was business as usual and that the company does it regularly every year, though he referred me to one of his employees who oversees it for more specific information. “It’s nothing out of the ordinary,” Drabinsky said. “I think we just do this to streamline operations for more efficiency and to make sure the members receive everything.” A Deluxe marketing VP told me “it’s not that big a deal” when she got back to me after looking into the matter. She confirmed that this was the first year Deluxe decided to contact Academy voters directly.
“For the last several years, Deluxe has been producing and fulfilling the watermarked screeners during Academy Awards season for our studio and independent distribution clients,” a Deluxe spokesman said. “In years past, each client updated their own AMPAS list. We were asked this year by some of our clients to update the list on their behalf. The email to Academy members was to simply begin the process of verifying contact information for our master list. As with all initiatives on behalf of our clients, this master list will remain confidential and not shared with any third party.”
Although they weren’t disclosed to Deadline or in the letter to Academy members, Deluxe clients include Fox, Sony, Universal, Paramount, The Weinstein Company, WGA, PGA and various independents, I am told. Reps from those clients we talked to did not know of any request made to Deluxe to update their lists, though it is certainly possible as there are many different people working on these campaigns and not everyone knows what everyone else is doing.
A consultant for one of those Deluxe clients told me Academy voter lists are actually mushrooming around town (Full disclosure: Deadline has a list for its award-season mailings). “I heard the L.A. Times was even using their editorial people to write letters soliciting information from Academy members,” said the consultant, also an Academy member, adding that with each new PR firm that crops up another attempt to get a list happens like clockwork. “(Awards consultant) Cynthia Swartz’s new firm Strategy PR just sent a letter to members soliciting information. Last year when I took on a small foreign film’s campaign, I realized I had to get my own list since I couldn’t use the studios. I thought it might be difficult but I called three fulfillment houses and they each had some kind of list to offer me. I went with the one that had both email and home addresses. It was simple.” Deluxe’s big competitor is Technicolor, and there are other fulfillment houses like Hazmat and West Coast Mailers who get in on the action.
Emmy consultants don’t seem to have the same problem as Oscar consultants do in getting their materials to the right voters. The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences cooperates by supplying their member addresses to one fulfillment house, 3R Printing, which coordinates all mailings for every network and studio with a contender. The one thing every Oscar consultant agreed on was that it would be nice if the Motion Picture Academy followed that example and made their list available for one central mailing house. It would quickly end the gold rush for voter lists, but it’s not going to happen according to Academy president Tom Sherak.
“Our Academy is not in the screener business,” he said. “We believe movies should be seen on the big screen but we do understand the desire of our members to also be able to get them on DVD, so many years ago the Academy made a decision not to stand in the way of that.” Sherak notes that the initial decision was in regards to smaller films so that everyone could be on an even playing field. It then expanded, and now members receive up to 50 or 60 discs a season and the Acad’s new rules even permit downloading and streaming as an alternate option for distributors. “We don’t endorse the use of screeners because we want to emphasize our belief in seeing films in theaters,” Sherak says. “The TV Academy is about TV, the small screen. I get what they do but they are different than us.”