The Academy Awards was once a major TV event. Now, it’s barely hanging on.
From 1986 to 2007, an average of 43 million people watched the Oscars each year. In 2008, the show hit a low (at the time) of 31 million viewers. It then increased steadily every year over the next 6 years before 4 consecutive years of notable drops.
That includes last year, when the 90th Oscars only brought-in 26.5 million people, the new all-time low and a 19% decrease from 2017.
So, what’s to blame? Well… pick a topic:
- Overall lack of interest in the movies, nominees, musical performances and/or host(s)
- Social media revealing the winners right away
- The show is too long
- It’s just/yet another awards show
- The Envelope-Gate damaging The Academy’s reputation
- The fact that the show hasn’t changed much in a long time (the last category added to the ballot was Best Animated Feature nearly 20 years ago)
You could make an argument for all of those. And there are others.
We all knew The Academy would want to shake things up this year… but they haven’t exactly been running a smooth operation.
That “Best Popular Film” category proposal was a disaster.
Announcing a 3-hour maximum show and not getting to present all 24 categories live has been a constant disapproval across the industry and on social media. #PresentAll24 was trending on Twitter just last night.
Nearly eliminating the performances of all five Best Original Song nominees caused another controversy.
Last year’s acting winners reportedly won’t be allowed to present this year’s acting awards. Allison Janney shared her disappointment in a since-deleted Instagram post, according to Vanity Fair, writing, “My heart is broken”. The Academy wants “bigger names” (for some ridiculous reason). What makes this more awkward: last year’s Best Supporting Actor winner Sam Rockwell is nominated again this year.
UPDATE: Once again, after outcry from the public and Academy members, Janney, Rockwell, Frances McDormand and Gary Oldman are confirmed to be presenting this year’s acting winners. Another great correction – but like the Song situation, it shouldn’t have been messed with in the first place.
And, oh yeah, the Kevin Hart fiasco.
Just yesterday, ABC President Karey Burke said this to reporters at the Television Critics Association panel session: “The main goal, which I was told, was the Academy promised ABC last year after a very lengthy telecast to keep the show to three hours. The producers wisely decided to not have a host and to go back to having the presenters and movies be stars. That would be the best way to keep the show at three hours.”
I honestly think Hart would’ve brought the ratings up significantly. His core fans would’ve watched – as well as some others out of pure curiosity. But that’s the word the Academy is now really betting on this year. Curiosity. For the first time since 1989 – exactly 30 years – there is no Oscar host. Will people watch to see how things go without an emcee? Or will they just wait for the YouTube and Twitter highlights minutes later?
Burke (pictured above; photo credit – ABC) also said, “I for one am excited because at no time have there been three movies nominated for Best Picture each grossing over $200 million. I think people will tune in because these are popular movies.”
First of all, that statement is completely FALSE. In 2010, “Avatar”, “The Blind Side” and “Up” were all $200 million-plus grossers that were nominated for Best Picture. And 42 million people watched that year. Second – there’s that “Popular” word creeping back in.
The Oscars is, of course, the final major awards show of Awards Season. It’s an elongated time of year. And The Academy plans to shrink it by holding the 2020 ceremony on Feb. 9. But when it comes to this year, and pretty much every year, we’re all overloaded with awards coverage. And maybe some people have just had enough.
NBC’s Golden Globes tends to be first. And this year, the network decided to air the Eagles/Bears football game right before. No red carpet pre-show. The result: record numbers for the NFL, but only half of that audience stuck around for the start of the Globes.
Overall, the Globes brought-in 18.6 million viewers, down 2% from last year. The show, deemed the “party of the year”, has averaged 18.3 million viewers since 2009. But the hour-by-hour numbers show that the 2019 Globes lost a staggering 36% of its viewers by Hour 3.
Next is the Critics Choice Awards: a show that has switched channel homes several times over the years. In 2011 and 2012, it was on VH1, bringing in around 500,000 people. The jump to The CW was BIG, with 1.88 million and 1.96 million viewers the next two years.
But then Critics Choice moved to cable – specifically A&E. In 2015, it aired to just 1 million people. In 2016, A&E, Lifetime and the Lifetime Movie Network all simulcasted it, totaling 1.6 million. But a solo airing on A&E for the next show – that December, not January – hurt Critics Choice badly. It pulled-in only 549,000 people.
So Critics Choice had to make a critical choice of its own. Where do we go from here? The CW welcomed the show back with open arms. Its Thursday airing in 2018 totaled 1.3 million people. And this year’s Sunday airing averaged 1.5 million for the total 3 hours and an impressive 1.74 million viewers for the final 2 hours (8-10pmET).
Then there’s the Screen Actors Guild Awards, which has been broadcast on both TBS and TNT. Over the years, there have been Sunday to Saturday shifts. But its 2013 high of 5.2 million combined viewers has drastically dropped. This year saw a near-low 2.7 million combined viewers.
Critics Choice went up, while SAG went down. In fact, 65% of the people who watched the final two hours of Critics Choice watched SAG – a new high.
And then… here’s where things get more interesting. The Oscars used to be classified as the second biggest TV event of the year, behind only the Super Bowl. From 1988 to 1995, the Academy Awards brought-in at least 50% of the viewers of the Super Bowl. That number skyrocketed to 64% in 1998 when “Titanic” was crowned the King of the (Movie) World. The Super Bowl still remains TV’s biggest draw, though it just suffered a 10-year low.
In 2005, 1 out of every 2 people who watched the Super Bowl also watched the Oscars. But in 2018 only 1 out of every 4 people who watched the Super Bowl also watched the Oscars (25.7%). Yet during that Oscar telecast, ABC charged $2.6 million for 30-second spots: about half of the $5 million it cost for a Super Bowl commercial.
In reality, ABC should only be charging $1.25 million: a quarter of the audience for a quarter of the cost.
So… what does this all come down to?
I think the Academy does need to make some changes. But eliminating category presentations and having no host isn’t them. You get a host who will bring-in younger viewers (like Hart). You add some well-needed, but sufficient categories, such as Stunt Ensemble. You re-structure the show so that it doesn’t feel so old-fashioned, prim, proper and predictable.
OR… you just face the facts. The Academy is just doing the Academy Awards to do it – without a care in the world about how many people are watching.
The 100th Oscars will be in 2028. That’s also the year ABC’s current deal expires. Will they simulcast the show on the “highly anticipated” Disney+ by then? Will Disney+ become the sole place you can watch the Oscars starting in 2029?
A Vanity Fair article published in September speculated that the Academy “is quietly considering streaming the Oscars”. Rumors of Netflix and others wanting to take a shot at taking it away from ABC are flourishing.
But will anyone care where the Oscars goes – especially if the show itself seems almost too frustrating to watch? Does anyone honestly care now? The President of ABC can’t get her Oscar facts right, and she’s making key decisions about… The Oscars.
I’ve been pretty good with Oscar predictions over the years, so I’m making another one: The Academy Awards will solely air on a streaming service by 2029.
Until then, and/or as long as drastic, unintelligent decisions keep being made, the Academy Awards will remain a gray cloud over anyone who legitimately cares about movies, awards season and the well-being of… you guessed it… the Academy Awards.
Sources: ShowBuzzDaily, TVByTheNumbers, Nielsen, Deadline, Vanity Fair, Wikipedia (contrary to popular belief, it’s actually a great source for accurate TV ratings)