Hollywood is a tough town. Some nights you’re up and some mornings you’re down. So it went for the 2020 Academy Awards, which offered thrilling Oscar firsts Sunday night — with Bong Joon-Ho and “Parasite” taking home four awards, including Best Picture — but on Monday morning, the party was over. An absolutely abysmal ratings report revealed that the host-less ceremony earned an all-time low in ratings, averaging 23.6 million viewers, down from last year’s already rough viewership numbers of 29.6 million.
The Oscars aren’t alone when it comes to falling ratings. In September, the Primetime Emmy Awards aired its lowest-rated ceremony since the organization began tracking the numbers in 1990, with around 6.9 million viewers tuning to to watch another host-less show. Last month, the Grammy Awards saw its smallest audience in 12 years, drawing approximately 18.7 million viewers.
There are definitely ways that the Oscars telecast could logically retool to grow its audience. Though not asked for his opinion, producer of IndieWire’s TV podcast “Millions of Screens” Leo Adrian Garcia rattled several suggestions off the top of his head, including:
- Aim to keep it shorter than 2.5 hours (or 15 Quibis).
- Get a host — forget having presenters for the presenters, when talent introduces themselves before introducing the people who are actually there to present the awards.
- Get rid of unnecessary performances (lead example: Eminem). Let the show be the star.
- Get rid of all the music performances for Best Original Song. Producers pitched this controversial idea last year, but a montage of scenes from each nominee’s film, scored by the song in question, would still celebrate the music within the movie.
- Realize you’re competing with everything else available at the click of a button and stream the show — subscription-free — on Twitter.
But it’s the last point that gets to the heart of the Academy’s issue.
Ultimately, awards shows are just the latest victim of Peak TV. The Oscars aren’t competing against what’s airing on other networks on a given Sunday night. It’s competing with everything that has ever aired and is currently available to stream. More than that, having so many platforms featuring original TV and movies, which people can watch whenever they want, has completely obliterated the water cooler as we knew it. Audiences are finding more and more programming aimed specifically at them, meaning there’s less common ground for people to come together and celebrate as a unified mass.
Which is to say nothing of the reality that TV ratings are an outdated measure of actual audience engagement, one that networks cling to, even when they understand these numbers don’t reflect an accurate gauge of engagement. Thanks to social media, it’s become largely unnecessary to actually sit down and watch awards shows. Twitter will have better jokes, feature clips of winners speeches, and offer any other must-see moments almost immediately, meaning that what once was a second-screen experience has become the entire screen.
Also important to keep in mind is the rapidly increasing amount of “cord-cutters” who have parted ways with their cable companies and rely largely on mediums that don’t offer — or they don’t invest in — live TV. While there are digital antennas available for those still looking to pick up local broadcast networks, some viewers may not see the point in seeking out the technology they may only utilize every few months.
Clearly, all that sounds bad. And maybe it is (temporarily) bad for the business of awards shows. But it’s not bad for the artistic expression and integrity of the industry. An expansion of film and television that allows for different stories and storytellers to reach wider audiences can only be seen as a net positive for entertainment at large. You don’t get “Fleabag” winning the Emmy for comedy series or “Parasite” winning Best Picture if you don’t have an industry that is producing great and diverse content.
Which is to say, Hollywood is on the right track. If they move forward with a commitment to lifting up the very best its mediums have to offer, the awards will only improve. If the ratings don’t, then so be it. The Oscars took more than 20 years before they started being televised. Change doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
For more on the present and future of televised awards shows, check out this week’s episode of “Millions of Screens” with TV Awards Editor Libby Hill, TV Deputy Editor Ben Travers, and Creative Producer Leo Garcia. In it, the crew detail what went wrong at this year’s Oscars, as well as what went right.
In addition, they dissect the continuing roll-out of Quibi commercials and one host’s thoughts on the strategy — particularly compared to the launch of Apple TV+ — may surprise you. Also, there’s talk of a “CSI” event series, and at this point, why not add one more show to the content pile? Couldn’t hurt.
“Millions of Screens” is available on Anchor, Apple Podcasts, Breaker, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher. You can subscribe here or via RSS. Share your feedback with the crew on Twitter or sound off in the comments. Review the show on iTunes and be sure to let us know if you’d like to hear the gang address specific issues in upcoming editions of “Millions of Screens.” Check out the rest of IndieWire’s podcasts on iTunes right here.
This episode of “Millions of Screens” was produced by Leonardo Adrian Garcia