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PwC in crisis meetings with Academy over 83-year contract following amazing Oscars blunder

Sam Dean
La La Land producers accept the Best Picture award - before it was handed to Moonlight instead - 2017 Getty Images

The PriceWaterhouseCoopers auditors responsible for the biggest fiasco in Oscars history had previously boasted that their 83-year-old contract had never come up for tender because they "always" do a good job, it has emerged.

Brian Cullinan, one of the only two people in the world supposed to know the Oscar winners before the ceremony, had said:  “It’s such a long-term relationship that we know intricately how everything works, the timing of it, the process that we use, and they have absolute trust in us and what we do.”

But that relationship could be in doubt for the first time today, after PwC and Academy executives were seen in crisis meetings following an on-stage catastrophe in which La La Land was mistakenly announced as best picture.

In fact, the accolade had gone to Moonlight in an envelope mix-up not discovered until it was too late.


The company in charge of the balloting process is PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the largest professional services firms in the world, and a leading auditor.

PwC is charged with guarding the envelopes that reveal the winners, and handing them to the presenters just before they go on stage.

Within hours of the mix-up, the company released a statement saying it "deeply regretted" the mistake, saying "the presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope".

As it proudly boasts on its website, PwC was this year celebrating its 83rd year leading the Oscars balloting process, but the colossal mistake has already lead to calls for it be to removed from the ceremony.

PwC veterans Martha L Ruiz and Brian Cullinan are the only two people who know the results ahead of the ceremony.

Martha L. Ruiz and Brian Cullinan 

Ms Ruiz, who has worked for PwC for nearly two decades, is just the second woman to serve as a “PwC Oscars tabulator”, while Cullinan is a PwC partner and serves as the company’s US board chairman.

“The reason we were even first asked to take on this role was because of the reputation PwC has in the marketplace for being a firm of integrity, of accuracy and confidentiality and all of those things that are really key to the role we have with the Academy and counting these ballots,” said Mr Cullinan in a promotional video highlighting the company’s role in the ceremony.

“It’s really symbolic of how we are thought of beyond this role and how our clients think of us, and I think it is something we take very seriously and take a lot of pride in.

“We have the winners in sealed envelopes that we hold and maintain throughout the evening and hand those to the presenters just before they walk out on stage.”

In an interview with Financial News last week, Mr Cullinan said: “We select the cards for the winners and put those into the respective envelopes on Friday and Saturday and then bring the briefcase carrying those envelopes to the red carpet and to the show on Sunday, where both of us stand back stage, one on each side of the stage and we hand the envelopes to the presenters right before they walk out.”

He added: “A lot of times there’ll be a kind of reversal of roles where sometimes celebrities will come over to us and ask if they can get their picture taken with us, which is kind of funny.”

Asked if PwC’s relationship with the Oscars ever comes up for tender, he said: “As long as our relationship is good and strong and we do a good job, which we always do, the Academy has been pleased I think with how we’ve been involved. It’s such a long-term relationship that we know intricately how everything works, the timing of it, the process that we use, and they have absolute trust in us and what we do.

"It’s just been a good, long-standing relationship. We hope we’re doing this 83 years from now as well."

La La Land star Ryan Gosling reacts as the true winner is revealed - Credit: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

In its statement, the firm said: "We sincerely apologise... for the error that was made during the award announcement for Best Picture.

"The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and when discovered, was immediately corrected.

"We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred."

Awards show fails