SAN FRANCISCO (03/27/2000) - The idea of watching the Academy Awards online last night seemed on first thought blush, pointless and dull. Why trade my big screen and comfy recliner for a postage stamp-sized window, choppy video, and my stiff-backed -- but ergonomically correct -- office chair? Like an insurance adjuster, I checked out the damage because it's my job.
My first obstacle was that the ceremonies weren't Webcast in full anywhere online. Oscar.com, the official Academy site, provided short-term feeds of backstage interviews, clips from the nominated movies, and footage of stars arriving at the Shrine Auditorium. I had a hard time pulling up the star arrivals, although I did see a very small Arnold Schwarzenegger arrive on the red carpet.
I spent some of the evening watching the ceremonies on TV with the sound turned low, though I continued to surf around and caught Whoopi Goldberg's audio-only Web simulcast from a cheap hotel.
"Last year I said everything I was thinking," Whoopi, host for the 1999 Academy Awards, said on her Oscar Webcast. "And here I am in a cheap hotel," she commented about this year.
The Whoopi.com audio feed was surprisingly clear; it came in without problems for the first hour. Unfortunately, the audio suffered from Net congestion and technical problems as the night went on. The main problem was a 30- to 45-second lag. Whoopi kept saying to stop and restart the broadcast to correct this, and I did so dutifully, but at best her comments were still a half-minute behind the broadcast.
Whoopi's running commentary was entertaining, but the best moments came when she answered listeners' e-mails. They arrived from as far as Alaska and Nigeria, often from those who didn't have any other access to the show.
After hearing a handful of e-mail messages, I dropped Whoopi a line, requesting a joke about Cameron Diaz, who was presenting the award for best costume design. I also asked if she had a special Whoopicam or if she was watching it on TV like everybody else.
Whoopi read my message within a minute of my sending it. She politely refused to kid Diaz, and she assured us that she was watching the ceremonies on TV too.
I started to appreciate both the multitasking and the interactive aspects of watching the Academy Awards online. I kept several browser windows open, and throughout the night I checked in with Film.com's excellent play-by-play. The site updated minutes after awards were presented, and its comments were consistently funny.
My understanding was that Elton John also had a Web offering -- a postceremony party that would feature "Puff Daddy and more" -- but it wouldn't get started until 1 a.m. Too late for me.
By 11:40 p.m. EST, my connection to Whoopi.com went down and couldn't be resurrected. Warren Beatty was accepting the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award on TV when I decided to give up and, like others on the East Coast, hit the sack to wait for the morning paper for the rest of the results. Unfortunately, the Net still has no way to beam the Best Picture winner to us as we sleep.
Maybe next year.