If you care at all about this sort of thing, by now you’ve probably read the various Oscar recaps, the positive reviews of Jimmy Kimmel’s performance, Viola Davis’ pitched-to-the-rafters acceptance speech, the bus full of tourists and, of course, the colossal Best Picture blunder that closed out the ceremony.
What you may not be aware of, particularly in the Monday morning deluge of post-ceremony coverage, is that for all the buzz about this years’ Oscars, it was one of the least viewed ceremonies of the modern era. You’d have to go back to 2008, the year Jon Stewart hosted and “No Country for Old Men” won, to find a lower rated broadcast.
There are, of course, many reasons for the lack interest in this year’s ceremony. For starters, almost no one, outside of the industry and hardcore cinephiles, saw this year’s crop of nominees. The Oscars have a reputation for being elitist, but the divide in Hollywood between blockbusters and smaller films has grown so stark that the big-budget spectacles don’t even get nominations while the films that do get nominated rarely draw huge audiences.
You will find more statistics at Statista
Additionally, our tumultuous political environment has sucked all of the air out of the room for any other news (and entertainment). The hope that viewers would turn in for another “Meryl at the Golden Globes” moment was largely unrealized, and the politics, while certainly present, was rarely inflammatory.
Just like the movies they celebrate, the Academy Awards are also inevitably hurt by the increasing cultural dominance of television, where shows can more patiently tell stories while still providing a fair bit of spectacle of their own. Even a big event movie can only occupy so many weeks of coverage, whereas a season of, say, Game of Thrones, Westworld or The Americans can have weeks of pre-and post- release analysis in addition to weekly episode summaries and debates to capture and hold viewers’ attention.
By contrast, the lackluster ratings for the Oscars and the relative lack of excitement around this year’s nominees signal a truth that Hollywood has been reluctant to accept: People don’t put up with the hassle of a trip to the movie theater for anything less than an event. Given the cost of tickets and concessions, a trip to the movies, can be a financial burden, particularly for a family. Not to mention the time requirements — getting to the theater early, sitting through endless commercials and trailers and then dealing with the increasing length of theatrical releases. A trip to the theater is no longer a way to kill a couple of hours. It can be a way to kill an entire day.
As home entertainment technology grows in quality and sophistication, there’s little reason for audiences to make that kind of investment to watch small interpersonal dramas (basically anything that doesn’t involve explosions) on the big screen. There’s no real reason to see films like Manchester by the Sea or Fences in a multiplex. They’ll play just as well at home.
And the various arguments about “the magic of the movies” or the communal experience at the theater seem less like reality and more like either the rose-tinted nostalgia of a bygone age or a fading professional group trying desperately to cling to their spot at the top. The Oscars, like movie theaters, are rapidly becoming relics.
Whether this year’s Best Picture debacle will prompt more people to watch next year remains to be seen, but one way or the other Oscar has lost some of his gold plating.