Browsing the New York Times this morning, I came across an article titled “For Oscars Telecast, Few Black Nominees Mean Fewer Black Viewers,” which, in short, argues that, as the title suggests, the fewer black nominees there are, the lower the number of black people tuning in to watch the Oscar ceremony broadcast.
It makes sense. We all want to see ourselves represented on screen – not only on each network’s regular lineup, but also at awards shows, recognizing our contributions. So it really shouldn’t be a surprise.
The New York Times piece is of course in reaction to the lack of black nominees in Academy Award contention this year – notably the absence of “Selma” in key categories (acting and directing specifically); although it’s nominated for Best Picture.
As the piece states: “With remarkable consistency, African-American viewers have showed up in large numbers to watch the Oscar broadcast when it featured a strong lineup of black nominees. But black viewers have gone missing when the core African-American presence was diminished, as it is this year.”
It goes on to say further that this is, in fact, not a good thing for the Academy and the broadcast, sharing hard data from previous years, courtesy of Nielsen, to support the above claim, adding, “Any drop in African-American viewership is of enormous concern for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which bestows the Oscars and has been a frequent target over the years for its overwhelmingly white membership. The Oscar telecast generates by far the biggest part of the Academy’s $151.5 million annual revenue, and maintaining high ratings is essential to its financial success. Academy leaders are also aware that a failure to attract a diverse audience risks making the awards less relevant to new generations of viewers.”
And to help rectify this (especially considering social media campaigns calling for a boycott of the Oscars telecast for the lack of diversity among its nominees), in 2015 anyway, producers of the show have peppered up its list of presenters and performers with a long list of black talents, including David Oyelowo, Viola Davis, Kevin Hart, Zoe Saldana, Octavia Spencer, Oprah Winfrey, Kerry Washington, Lupita Nyong’o, Jennifer Hudson, and others (see my “There Will Be Black People on Oscar’s Stage at This Year’s Academy Awards Event…“) – all set to grace the stage at various moments throughout the ceremony. ABC has also been aggressively promoting the telecast during shows on in its lineup with large African American followings, like “Scandal,” “How to Get Away With Murder” and “black-ish.” The network has even been running ads for the Oscar telecast on black cable TV network, BET!
Will any of this help draw black audiences?
You tell me. I was planning on watching it anyway, although I typically have something else that I flip to when necessary. How about you? Any Oscar plans?
Consider this; per the New York Times piece, 5 times in the last 10 years, the Oscar broadcast has drawn more than 40 million viewers. And in all five instances, the black audience was solely responsible for driving that figure above 40 million, if only because each of those 5 years included black nominees (and winners), like Forest Whitaker, Eddie Murphy, Djimon Hounsou, Will Smith and Jennifer Hudson in 2007; Denzel Washington and Quvenzhané Wallis, along with “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and “Django Unchained,” in 2013; and Barkhad Abdi, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o, in addition to “12 Years a Slave,” last year.
And in the other 5 years of the last decade, when Oscar viwership was below 40 million, there were a lot fewer black nominees.
Also worth noting, of the last 10 years, the best year for Oscar viewership ratings was in 2005, when Chris Rock (who is black) hosted the show, and several black actors were nominated, including Don Cheadle, Jamie Foxx, Morgan Freeman and Sophie Okonedo, and the film “Ray” was nominated for best picture. Roughly 5.3 million black viewers tuned in, according to Nielsen, helping to lift the show’s draw to over 42 million viewers.
To reiterate why a drop in viewership is a concern for the Academy, “the Oscar telecast generates by far the biggest part of the Academy’s $151.5 million annual revenue, and maintaining high ratings is essential to its financial success. Academy leaders are also aware that a failure to attract a diverse audience risks making the awards less relevant to new generations of viewers.”
So, essentially, like a lot of things, it comes down to dollars and cents. There is money to made in diversity. And maybe the studio movie business will eventually catch up to the TV business, where there’s seemingly more diversity, as more and more TV networks are beginning to recognize the ratings and profit potential in producing content for black audiences. See my 2014 piece titled “Are TV Networks Finally Starting To Realize The Ratings & Profit Potential In Producing Content For Black Women?“