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The Oscar Effect

By Aarti Narsee | 2014-05-22 12:03:19.0

“The Oscar Effect” – a distracting, in some cases debilitating, malady that has gripped the nation since March.

From the moment Paralympian Oscar Pistorius first entered the dock of the high court in Pretoria, where he stands accused of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, productivity declined, television ratings jumped and social media buzzed.

To date, the hive of activity surrounding what has been dubbed ‘the trial of the century’ has only been surpassed by news of the death of former President Nelson Mandela.

With the trial being televised, the office or canteen television has become a gathering place for trial watchers – not only during lunch and tea breaks, but with some maintaining the semblance of work by lugging their laptops or tablets along during work hours.

Others listen to their radios, while some take advantage of the live streaming, blogging or Twitter feeds from the court room.

BrandsEye, an online monitoring and insights tool, reports that the trial has had more than two and a half million mentions globally.

Conversations on Twitter spiked on the first day of the trial and later when Pistorius took the stand last month.

“The Oscar trial has seen a majority of real-time mentions online, mostly on Twitter and Facebook,” said BrandsEye chief executive officer, JP Kloppers.

This means people have been watching and tweeting live during work hours, with the trial taking place between 9h30am to 3pm on most weekdays.

According to media monitoring company Data Driven Insight, Pistorius’s testimony overshadowed other news - such as honeymoon murder accused Shrien Dewani's arrival in South Africa, Marikana-related coverage and the national elections.

BrandsEye reports that elections saw only 110 236 mentions on election day, while the build up in election conversation saw 426 510 tweets.

The only trial that appears to have come close in terms of coverage is the 1994 trial of OJ Simpson, who was acquitted by a United States court of murdering his ex-wife and her lover.

The trial was also televised.

According to his book on the case, America on Trial, Alan Dershowitz reported that water consumption in the US dropped dramatically when the verdict was delivered, with viewers unable to tear themselves away from their televisions for a comfort break.

Dawie Roodt, chief economist at the Efficient Group, confirmed that interest in the trial came with a corresponding dip in productivity.

But, he added, "South Africans are good at catching up" so the trial was unlikely to negatively affect the national economy.

 “Sure there is a lot of productive time lost ... but the typical people watching [the Pistorius trial] are white collar workers, [who] can catch up easily, rather than factory workers doing manual labour,” he said.

BrandsEye predicted a "huge spike" in interest when Judge Thokozile Masipa delivers her verdict in the Pistorius case.

The Oscar Effect

Mariska Laas, a 39-year-old office manager in Cape Town, said she had been watching the trial or listening via streaming every day at work.

"I listened in the background while trying to do work … . Everybody was following it … people in the office would ask what has been happening … even my boss would check in," she said.

Another Pistorius trial addict, Sabelo Sentsienyane, said she had cut her sleep down to five hours to catch repeats of the trial at night.

"Staying up late is a problem when you have to wake up early," said the 38-year-old, who would stay up until midnight every night to watch the trial "uninterrupted".

Sentsienyane, who works in retail, also follows the trial on Twitter when she is at work.

"I was glued to the entire case … wondering what was going to happen next."

Some have confessed on social media of being late for work or playing truant in order to follow the trial. Others have described how the athlete’s testimony has brought all work to a “halt”.

 “The Oscar effect. All work ceases, everyone gathers round @OscarTrial199 and watches. Wrapt attention. #OscarTrial”, tweeted Charlotte Kilbane on April 9.

On May 4 Riaz Shaik tweeted: “All work and productivity to decrease as #oscartrial resumes, in simple terms, it's like working in government!”

Another tweeted on April 9: “Right - have to shut down Tweetdeck NOW if I'm going to get any work done this afternoon! #OscarPistorius distractions.”