At last night’s Oscars, 80-year-old Warren Beatty pulled a white card from a red envelope before hesitantly announcing “And the Academy Award…for best picture…” He then halted before allowing co-presenter Faye Dunaway to take charge and announce ‘La La Land’ as the winner. It was three minutes into the emotional acceptance speeches from the creators of the musical before one of the producers announced, “There’s a mistake. Moonlight, you guys won the best picture. This is not a joke” before ushering the confused film makers onto the stage to accept their award.
PwC has been counting votes for the Oscars for over 80 years and only last week stated that the Academy has “absolute trust in us and what we do”. Today the accounting firm has had to issue a grovelling apology for creating an Oscars that the world is talking about, but for the wrong reasons.
Words like chaos and catastrophe and even conspiracy theory have been bandied around. But the simple answer is that there must have been an inherent flaw in the processes that PwC employed and openly shared. The 7,000 votes from Academy members were counted last week by PwC when the ballot closed. Theses votes were then recounted manually and PwC’s two chief auditors created identical sets of winning envelopes which were locked away and then brought by them to the Oscars in two briefcases, with an LAPD police escort plus a photo opportunity on the famous red carpet. Each auditor then stood in the wings at either side of the stage to hand out the winning envelopes to presenters in turn, and somehow Beatty ended up with the wrong one.
There are countless examples of where the wrong winner has been announced live, from the X-Factor to Miss Universe to Australia’s Next Top Model, often resulting in public feeling that the results may have been rigged. Joe Faine, senior project manager at PromoVeritas, which oversees the secure and independent adjudication of high profile, live-voting and televised events such as The National Television Awards, Eurovision and Sports Personality of the Year, commented:
“An event as high profile and important as the Oscars demands extra close attention to identify breakpoints well ahead of the event. It is our responsibility to ensure that these breakpoints are accounted for and remedied before anything is confirmed on paper. In this scenario, having duplicates of anything will always open up the potential for a problem or confusion, and we would take care to make additional checks before and during any vote-led event – preferably with a single result sheet or card that is handed directly from the auditor.
“It may also be that PwC have become too familiar with the event or overcome by the excitement to spot opportunities for disaster. Unfortunately, familiarity can indeed breed complacency and while a long-running business relationship can be hugely beneficial, it should always be tested against competitors. No matter what the event, the adjudicator must remember that they are simply there to do a job and ensure that compliance and fairness are being upheld first and foremost”.
It seems that planning, checking and bullet proofing are always the key to a successful event, project or campaign – whether the world is watching you or not.