And the winner is … not the Academy Awards broadcast. The TV ratings for the 90th Oscars shows that a lot of people are just not interested in watching the awards in the same numbers they used to. This year’s show was down 15% from last year’s rating, following a steady 4-year decline. But more than that, those low numbers are inching towards being an all-time low for the ceremony. The previous winner of that dubious distinction was in 2008, which was hosted by Jon Stewart, and where No Country for Old Men won Best Picture.
In an attempt to win back viewers and potentially include more populist choices, the Academy expanded the Best Picture Nominees to 10 at that point, which took effect in 2010. It allowed movies like District 9 and Avatar to be added to the lists, but that waned in the intervening years (with the exception of a few summer films like Mad Max: Fury Road).
Has that had an effect? Has the lack of nominations for blockbusters or movies that more people have seen (no matter how well-made) caused people to tune out, especially as there’s been an uptick of smaller, often indie movies being honored by the Academy? Or is it just that there’s so much great scripted television that airs on Sunday night? (maybe I’m biased — also, watch Counterpart!).
Last year’s show (the 89th) featured a major snafu in its closing moments, when Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty accidentally said the wrong name for the Best Picture winner. But even the promise of that kind of drama didn’t seem to lure in additional viewers this year. (It’s worth noting that the show — featuring the same host, Jimmy Kimmel, and the same production team of Mike De Luca and Jennifer Todd, did go off without a hitch this time).
Are people caring less about the ceremony itself when live-blogs, Twitter, and articles posted as soon as it ends reveal all of the winners plus GIFs of any interesting moments? Is it easier to commit to the SparkNotes version than a 4-hour telecast, especially if you haven’t seen most of the movies? And yet, The Shape of Water was the highest-grossing Best Picture winner in the last five years.
It’s getting increasingly hard to find a unified audience anywhere on TV these days, even when it comes to awards shows and major live sporting events (like the Olympics or the Super Bowl). But will award shows in particular need to fundamentally change to continue to interest modern viewers?
For more on the Oscars, check out our recent stories below:
- Where to Watch the Oscar Winners Right Now
- Oscars Post-Mortem: The Biggest Surprises, Lessons Learned, and Rules Broken
- ‘The Shape of Water’ Wins Best Picture; Takes Home 4 Oscars
- 10 Oscar Movies That Time Forgot