Comedian-turned-media-mogul Kevin Hart will host the 2019 Oscars broadcast. Previous hosts have implied it’s a thankless job, but it’s been Hart’s dream for several years, one for which he’s actively campaigned. And for the Academy, that enthusiasm is a godsend: It knows that the more diversity in its ceremony, the higher the viewership. In hiring Hart, this may be the rarest of Hollywood deals: a genuine win-win.
While Hart’s politicking speaks to the honor of hosting the Oscars, he is also a relentless self-promoter with a by-any-means necessary will to market the product that is Kevin Hart. Even with declining viewership, Nielsen ranks the Oscars broadcast as one of the top 10 most-watched TV programs in each of the last three years, with a broadcast that reaches more than 225 countries. For a brand builder like Hart, it’s a no-brainer. It’s a singular opportunity to potentially reach a global audience — particularly for an African-American star climbing the ladder in an environment that tells you there’s no overseas market for your content.
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And then there’s Academy perspective. The Oscars have steadily lost core 18-49 audience, and hit an all-time audience low in 2018. In a time when the Oscars must fight for cultural relevance, diversity is one of its most powerful available drivers. Enter the affable Hart, who can further promote his brand and possibly bid for a prestige his movies haven’t afforded him, on one of the grandest stages of all.
In a post to his roughly 125 million social-media followers, Hart promised to “rise to the occasion” and make the 2019 broadcast a “special one.” With Instagram and Twitter accounts that rank in the top 40 of most followed accounts in the entire world, he will leverage his vast social media presence to back up his guarantees.
More than any Oscar host in its 90-year history, Hart recognizes how social media has profoundly shifted the relationship between celebrity and fan. Perhaps taking a page from the book of his role model, Oprah Winfrey, Hart is transparent not only with his successes, but also in his personal struggles, failures, and disappointments. While Winfrey utilized a daily talk show, Hart unleashes his authenticity on social media as well as in his stand-up. That same unwillingness to filter himself has also gotten him into trouble, as evidenced by the resurfacing of a homophobic comedy routine in Hart’s 2010 comedy special “Seriously Funny,” in which he says that his “biggest fear” was his son “growing up and being gay.”
As his popularity has grown, Hart has had to contend with pushback over the routine, telling Rolling Stone in 2015, that it wasn’t a “well thought-out” joke, claiming he was speaking to his own insecurities: “It’s about my fear. I’m thinking about what I did as a dad; did I do something wrong? And if I did, what was it? Not that I’m not gonna love my son, or think about him any differently. The funny thing within that joke is it’s me getting mad at my son because of my own insecurities — I panicked.”
As reps for both Hart and the Academy have yet to address social media calls for a reconsideration of Hart’s hosting the Oscars, it’s uncertain what, if any, fallout will result.
More recently, Hart very publicly dealt with the 2017 revelation that he had been unfaithful to his then-pregnant wife, Eniko Parrish. A scenario that had the potential to fatally damage his all-important brand, Hart, very much in keeping with an approach that has helped endear him to audiences worldwide, took to his Instagram account to acknowledge his profound treachery, and apologized to his family and fans, even titling his next comedy tour after it (“Irresponsible”).
Meanwhile, the apology video drew over 6.2 million views on his Instagram page alone.
With minute-long Instagram video posts that often get more views than the average TV series, brands looking for a boost could perceive Hart as an invaluable marketing apparatus.
And for the Academy, Hart looks like an ideal host. He’d bring some safety-edged excitement to what is typically a rather reverent and stodgy affair. A relentless optimist, highly energetic with a non-threatening persona, he has proven himself to be a draw — not only at the box office, but also as a brand ambassador.
Widely regarded as first and foremost a comedian, the aspirational Hart is a businessman. Or maybe more appropriately, to borrow from fellow mogul Jay Z on “Diamonds from Sierra Leone,” Kevin Hart is not a businessman; he’s a business, man! Unseating Jerry Seinfeld in 2016, Hart is the world’s most successful comedian with an annual income at $87.5 million. Hart is also currently one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood, boasting a career $3.5 billion in worldwide box office.
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He’s also inked multimillion-dollar endorsement deals with top retailers including Nike, H&M, Lyft, and Old Spice; developed TV shows for various networks including BET and Comedy Central; and, two years ago, purchased and transformed sound stages in the San Fernando Valley into what has become the hub of his Hartbeat Productions and Hartbeat Digital, the foundations of his young and rapidly evolving media empire. There are even Kevin Hart emojis or “Kevmojis.”
Hart also has TV hosting experience, starting with the 2011 BET Awards, followed by the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards (after which he said, “Hopefully after MTV, of course we’re talking Emmys, Oscars, whatever.”). And in 2016, Hart co-hosted the MTV Movie Awards with Dwayne Johnson.
As a 2015 Nielsen report revealed, there’s a direct correlation between the number of black Oscar nominees (and hosts), and viewership. Academy president John Bailey shared his enthusiasm over the decision to hire Hart, calling him a “very kind of warm and loving and lovable person” whose affability he believes will resonate with audiences. Additionally, Bailey suggests that Hart may “surround himself with people who also are going to be appealing like him… I think some of the presenters and guests are going to be his friends.”
The Academy ceremony enjoyed one of its best draws ever in 2005, when Chris Rock hosted the show, a year that also saw several black actors nominated in major categories, including Don Cheadle, Jamie Foxx, Morgan Freeman, and Sophie Okonedo, with “Ray” nominated for Best Picture. Roughly 5.3 million black viewers tuned in, helping to lift the show’s numbers to over 42 million — a rarity in this millennium.
In what might be a repeat of that evening, Hart is hosting in a year that will also likely see multiple black nominees including Ryan Coogler, Barry Jenkins, Regina King, Viola Davis, Michael B. Jordan, Mahershala Ali, and Spike Lee, to name a few. There is money to be made in diversity, as reports from the UCLA Ralph Bunche Center and other organizations have all recently shown. And the stakes are high: Academy leaders know if the show fails to attract a diverse audience, it also risks making the awards less relevant to new generations of viewers.
Will Smith, in a 2007 “60 Minutes” profile at the height of his career, said the following about his success: “I’ve viewed myself as slightly above average in talent. And where I excel is ridiculous, sickening, work ethic. You know, while the other guy’s sleeping? I’m working. While the other guy’s eating? I’m working.” Hart could probably say the same about himself. The Academy is betting that’s the ethic he brings — along with that massive social media following — to his hosting duties.