Who knows the Oscar winners? The betting markets, probably.

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This is the time of year when everyone likes to speculate on the winners of the Academy Awards, to be announced on Sunday. There are plenty of ways to try and predict which movie is going to win Best Picture or who'll win Best Actress. You could look at the various betting markets and see who the speculators are favouring. You could take a look at the predictions from various movie experts. You could base your predictions on the movie “fundamentals”: prior awards won, box office receipts, and so forth. If you travel in such circles, you could listen in on the chatter at Hollywood cocktail parties. Or you could even watch all of the nominated movies and decide for yourself.

As Peter Aldhous (a data journalist we've featured in this blog before) reports in Medium, a team researchers used statistical analysis to evaluate all the possible methods for forecasting the Oscars, by using them to predict the outcomes of the 2013 Academy Awards and comparing the results to the actual outcomes. The conclusion: the predictions from the BetFair betting markets — alone — are the best indicators of the actual outcomes. BetFair even does better than a Nate Silver-style aggregation of the critics' picks on the day before the actual awards (and way better than a statistical model based on movie fundamentals), as you can see in the chart below.


You can read the details of the analysis in this paper from Microsoft research. Author David Rothschild let me know that all the computation for the paper was done in the R language, along with many R packages including plyr, reshape, ggplot2 and data.table. Rothschild uses the BetFair predictions (slightly adjusted so that the total probability of all outcomes adds to 100%) as the basis of the Oscar predictions at the PredictWise website. Click through to see the up-to-the-minute predictions, but the forecasts for the top awards as of this writing along with their predicted chance of winning are:

Best Picture 12 Years a Slave  87.4%
Best Directing Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity) 98.2%
Best Actor Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club) 91.9%
Best Actress Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) 98.6%
Best Supporting Actor Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) 97.2%
Best Supporting Actress Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) 59.1%
Best Visual Effects Gravity 99.8%

(On a personal note: I really hope Gravity does match the predictions above. It's easily one of the best films I've seen in the last decade, and I'd give it Best Picture as well if I were an Academy member. See it in 3-D if you can.)

You can see predictions for the other categories in Peter Aldhous's article linked below.

Matter: Oscar Picks: How to Beat Your Film-Geek Friends

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