Is this a pandemic-induced slip or part of a larger trend?
The Oscars became a must-see television event over time, but when the television event hit an all-time low that year, some questions arise. Mainly who had the best look on the red carpet?
Was just a joke. We’re here to talk about this drop in audience numbers and what it could say about the general state of the relationship between the film industry and itself. Because one thing that the Oscars have less and less to do with is the audience.
First, Let’s look at the data from CNN. In doing so, we should also acknowledge that the Nielsen ratings are a terrible arcane method of measurement. But at least it’s a consistent metric that we have over time.
The 2021 event drew an average of 9.8 million viewers, 58% less than last year (23.6).
We all expected the Oscar ratings to be low, but how low they are is mind-boggling: less than 10 million viewers. The previous “all-time low” in the number of viewers for an Oscar show was 23.6 million. This year it was only 9.85 million. https://t.co/uNN80kr7Fp
– Will Mavity (@mavericksmovies) April 26, 2021
Things got worse and worse. The serious caveat was that this wasn’t the best two year stretch to film … in fact, it could be the worst. Which is obviously a big part of these low ratings.
But a strong counter-argument could be made … wasn’t this the year when everyone should have had the easiest time to watch all of the nominated films? They were all available for streaming and everyone was at home. Many people are still at home. So why not hear the Oscars?
CNN notes that all awards ratings have fallen during the pandemic. Another factor is that this was a year plus minor releases.
But it’s not just about this year. It’s a trend. Check out this table from Statista.com::
But here is another interesting data point to consider. How popular are the films that win the best picture?
Over the past few decades, the best picture winners have absolutely declined in terms of box office revenue.
Just notice how much more cash the winners made for launching the Aughts than the films in recent years. Also, ignore the fact that the 2020-2021 dates are hit by a pandemic. 2016-2019 all reflect a sharp drop.
The final winner was over $ 100 million in gross profit Argo In 2013.
The box office numbers have generally decreased. People are streaming more content. However, the entire business model is changing.
This leads us to the all-important question:
Are the Oscars going to be niche within a niche?
These kinds of questions often lead us into conversations about how to fix the Oscars, what is how to treat the symptom and not the disease.
The disease is more related to how films are marketed, who they are made for, and the relationship between the industry at large and audiences across the country.
In a way, the Oscars suffer their own fate. It becomes completely isolated and incestuous. It is an extended public act of self-celebration. The people who get the awards and are ready for them are … the people who vote.
How can the audience hope to feel connected? They can’t because they aren’t. With the Oscars, the industry can tell you who to see, what you like and what is good. It’s essentially a different marketing platform, and the money spent on it reflects that.
Awards for films are always subjective. But if there were public awards based on the voices of both critics, like the way sports journalists choose an MVP in a sports league, it would feel a little more separate from what the same companies are trying to promote.
While there might be some interest in knowing which player in a league the other players, owners and managers think is the best, it is again an internal process.
Audience awards are also an interesting idea.
Of course, the Golden Globes are an example of a non-industry award-giving group, and they’re not a model of behavior at all on any level.
Have we fallen into the trap of fixing the Oscars?
Type of. The Oscars are not fixable. The reality is that viewership is likely to continue to decline for a variety of reasons. Feature films and the feature film industry need to connect in different ways with younger viewers and larger audiences. The internal process of rewarding certain films and filmmakers is not particularly interesting to people. There will be no comeback.
The great thing about this year’s Oscars was that the academy diversified its nominees and winners. It set a number of long overdue historical standards. There is, of course, a very good chance that many people are drawing the absolutely wrong lesson from the drop in numbers, believing that this is evidence that audiences are less interested in filmmakers or different voices. This is far from the truth, and there is tons of data to prove it.
It’s more about the sheer deluge of content available to people. The reality is that Emerald Fennell and Chloé Zhao are more likely to get bigger viewers if they can get their hands on existing IP addresses. Like it or not. This is how you make more eyeballs these days.
If that internal self-procurement process is for the entertainment industry to develop its own talent to then hand over larger properties, it could almost be viewed as a minor league system. Are the Oscars … the minor leagues?
Probably not the right metaphor. The reality, however, is that the Oscars’ impact on culture as a whole is waning. Fewer people watch these films and fewer people watch these awards shows. Most important art is never measured by awards or box office numbers, or even by how many people value it.
Wait … then what exactly does measure the value of art quality?
I have my thoughts. But what’s yours? Leave them in the comments.