Oscars 2021: The looming disaster of TV audiences could be calamitous for the Academy | Oscars 2021

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As its big night approaches, the Academy faces disaster. Besides the fact that Oscar TV ratings have been declining for years, the catastrophic audience figures from the Golden Globes last month, the disappointing Baftas viewership numbers last Sunday demonstrated that the era’s awards show Covid has turned out to be a dramatic turning point. . The Oscars TV show, which is scheduled to air on April 25, is likely to attract its smallest audience, which could have a disastrous effect on the future of the Oscars.

Steven Gaydos, executive vice president of content for film industry magazine Variety, says: “There are many reasons to be concerned… Before Covid arrived, audiences were dropping rapidly, by year after year, for all awards. The Academy is basically funded by the TV show, and they’re about to open a big, expensive museum. They’ve embarked on a half-billion dollar business at a time when their main source of income is dwindling. There could be an iceberg ahead for the Academy.

The success of the TV show is vital for its organizers Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Ampas), which receives around $ 75 million a year from ABC TV, on a contract that will last until 2028. ABC itself is making big money advertising slots during the show – $ 129 million on the 2020 edition – which means revenue generation remains strong. But last year’s audience figures were the lowest on record, at 23.9 million in the United States, putting ABC’s ability to make a profit on the show at risk.

A combination of factors appear to be at play. The pandemic has severely disrupted the normal operations of the film industry, with many prestige films being delayed or dropped onto streaming services without much fanfare. It has long been recognized that nominations for blockbuster films – such as The Lord of the Rings or Avatar – provide a wider audience for the Oscar TV show, and those types of films stand out this year for their absence. Additionally, the telecast itself struggled to retain audience approval, with frustrations related to its long airing run, the choice of hosts (if any), and the quality of the show on offer. The problems were compounded by long-standing complaints about the lack of diversity in nominees and winners, sparked in 2015 by the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag campaign.

The show’s producers have been tinkering with the format for some time in an effort to solidify audience numbers. Plans to reduce airtime – relegating less popular categories to commercial breaks and abandoning some of the renditions of the nominated songs – were greeted with dismay, while suggesting introductions such as adding a category ” best popular film ”and also bringing in more celebrity presenters. caused an uproar.

Artists in disaster… James Franco and Anne Hathaway present in 2011.
Artists in disaster… James Franco and Anne Hathaway present in 2011. Photographie: AMPAS / ABC via Getty Images

The identity of the host has also become a hot potato after the notorious stint of James Franco and Anne Hathaway in 2011 and the departure of Kevin Hart ahead of the 2019 ceremony, after homophobic comments on social media were put in the spotlight. light. Since then, no official host has been used.

Jeremy Kay, editor of Screen International magazine for the Americas, says the question is a red herring: “Personally, I don’t think a host has much of an impact. It’s more about whether the show as a whole entertains and feels fresh. The Oscars remain significant to the film industry, but to be successful as a mainstream TV show, you need to entertain. “

Only a few details have emerged of what is planned for the 2021 show. In December, Ocean’s Eleven director Steven Soderbergh was hired as one of the producers, a high-profile statement of intent aimed at “reconsidering” television broadcasting. Seeing the technical difficulties that plagued the Golden Globes, Soderbergh and his fellow producers initially planned a “zoom-out” event, taking place at two different locations in Los Angeles. However, they were forced to go back as it became clear that a significant number of applicants based outside the United States would be barred from participating due to Covid travel rules. This led to the creation of “hubs” in London and Paris to allow remote participation.

The main contenders for the awards in 2021 are Nomadland, Chloé Zhao’s study of pensioners living precarious lives following the financial crash of 2008; Promising Young Woman, a comedy-drama about rape and revenge starring Carey Mulligan; Minari, an Arkansas drama about a Korean-American family trying to run a farm; and The Father, in which Anthony Hopkins plays an old man with dementia.

Kay says, “Covid delays have allowed smaller films to go further than they could have if there had been the usual barrage of studio heavyweights. It has not been a banner year, but the quality across the board has been high. These films, the filmmakers behind them and the stories they tell have had more exposure than they might expect in any other year, and we’re all the better for it. “

Gaydos, however, suggests that there may be some fundamental issues in how the Oscars connect with contemporary Hollywood films and their audiences. “For a while, the films nominated for Best Picture made up only a tiny fraction of the tickets sold – there is a gulf between the Oscars and the cinephile audience. Marvel and DC movies almost never live up to Best Picture, or Star Wars, while Pixar’s moves are relegated to the animated category, so the pictures that make up 90% of movies are simply not not here.

“By the time the Oscars all become spinach and no dessert, they’ve built themselves up a whole tree.”

The decline of what he calls “movie star culture” is also playing a role. “Most franchise movies aren’t really star-focused,” Gaydos says. “Part of the fun of the awards show is seeing these stars being themselves – nervous, emotional, passionate about their work – and you are actually spending an evening with some very beautiful people on an important evening in their life. The more that decreases, the less an event the Oscars are. If the franchise is the star, that doesn’t make you want to go to an awards show.

“I love the Academy, I love movies, I love the Oscars, so this current concern gives me a lot of grief.”

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