This year’s Oscars should have been a win for Hollywood, but trouble still follows Hollywood’s once prestigious annual event.
According to preliminary figures, ratings for the 91st Academy Awards were up slightly. Unfortunately, it is not enough to assuage anxiety over the awards show’s downward trend.
The second host-less Academy Awards ended up having the second-smallest audience in Oscar history. Audience size for this year was 28 million, according to the calculations of The Hollywood Reporter. This figure is up about 6 percent over the disastrous Kimmel-hosted show’s preliminary ratings of the previous year. Viewer-ship size was based on a 20.1 rating/33 share in metered-market households.
In 2018 box-office revenues seemed to have ticked up, and a lot of folks who were watching this year’s show had actually seen three of the Best Picture nominees: “Black Panther,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “A Star is Born.” “Panther” took in a haul of more than $700 million in domestic gross, and “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “A Star is Born” each earned over $200 million. The success of the cinematic trio should have been enough to garner a larger audience than had been seen in the past few years.
It has been downright gloomy for those following the trend in ratings for the Academy Awards show. The overall concern over whether the Oscars were losing their allure was palpable. Last year’s show, which was hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, fell double digits from the previous year, sinking to the lowest ratings level for the show ever.
Although the ratings of all awards shows have been on the decline, Disney-owned ABC had to have been alarmed when it learned that viewer-ship for the 2018 Oscar show had dropped 25 percent in the key 18 to 49 demographic.
This year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences tried a number of different things to give the sagging ratings a jumpstart. It released a series of proposals, all of which received significant backlash with the end result being the same – a cave by the Academy at the first sign of pushback.
In late 2018, the Academy came up with an idea for a new category that would grant awards to “popular” films. The thinking was to try and include nominees and winners that movie fans simply adored, thereby creating more buzz and bringing in more viewers. The blowback by film artists of all types was fierce, and the Academy relented.
The Academy tried picking a popular host that might prove to be a ratings magnet. It reached out to the highest paid actor currently in the industry, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. However, The Rock’s shooting schedule got in the way so the pick was a no-go.
Oscar leadership then turned to another popular Hollywood figure, Kevin Hart. The attempt to secure the mega-successful comedic actor turned into a PR debacle for the Academy. Hart had a decade-old tweet history that came back to haunt him. Once again the leadership couldn’t handle the flack that it received. CEO Dawn Hudson reportedly telephoned Hart to ask him to apologize for his past Twitter posts. This infuriated Hart, and he ended up withdrawing from the hosting gig, leading to the decision to broadcast a host-less telecast for the first time since 1989.
Then there was the time issue. For years, ABC-Disney had been pleading with the Academy to shorten the length of the Oscar telecast. The Academy leadership came up with an arrangement to abbreviate the normally long-winded telecast by awarding four of the ceremony’s prizes during the commercial breaks and then craftily editing the award winners into a later show slot.
Although the Academy believed that consensus for the plan could be developed by showing representatives from various branches a video demonstration of the newly conceived format, a high profile rebellion caused the Academy to reverse itself. Major creative players in movies, which included Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, and Quentin Tarantino, signed an open letter condemning the idea. A few short days later the Academy melted.
Producers of this year’s show were able to cut 35 minutes from the overall length, when compared to the previous year. This was done by eliminating montages and mid-telecast comedy. However, the telecast still ended up being about 3 hours and 20 minutes long.
A December 2018 Morning Consult/The Hollywood Reporter survey found that ABC and the Academy were correct in their attempt to shorten the Oscar telecast. Forty-eight percent of adults said the Oscars telecast was too long.
A close second in annoyance terms to the overly long airtime of the Oscar show is the political content that is being pushed by Hollywood celebrities. The poll indicates that 39 percent of adults are less likely to watch awards shows when celebrities express their political views, and the number rises to 59 percent when viewers self-identify as Republicans.
Reportedly, in addition to the perpetually failing effort to shorten the duration of acceptance speeches at the Oscars, the Academy and producers of the telecast were apparently working hard behind the scenes to convince presenters and recipients of the awards to leave their politics at home.
Well, it didn’t work. Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Maya Rudolph, the first group of presenters at the awards show, joked about the proposed “popular” film category, and apparently Rudolph could not restrain herself from tossing a political barb into her intro punch line.
“We are not your hosts,” Fey was quick to explain. Rudolph interrupted saying, “So just a quick update in case you’re confused. There is no host tonight, there will be no popular movie category and Mexico is not paying for the wall.”
Other presenters were quick to follow suit. While introducing the Best Foreign Language Film winner, actor Javier Bardem, who delivered his remarks in Spanish, took a veiled swipe at President Trump’s border security measures.
ABC translated Bardem’s speech in the following way: “There are no borders or walls that can restrain ingenuity or talent. In any region of any continent, there are always great stories that move us. And tonight, we celebrate the excellence and importance of the cultures and languages of different countries.”
Following Bardem’s comments, comedian Keegan Michael Key placed an open umbrella on the ground, imitating the president’s actions in 2018 prior to boarding Air Force One.
During his acceptance speech for Best Adapted Screenplay, director Spike Lee jumped into campaign mode in making a pitch for the 2020 presidential election, saying, “Let’s make the right choice, let’s be on the right side of history.”
“The 2020 election is right around the corner,” Lee said.
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