The Oscars happened on Sunday night. Right? Did the Oscars happen on Sunday night? I feel like I least heard about it somewhere though you might not have. Well, they did, in fact, go down, handing out awards for the years best movies, actors, actresses, costumes, music, and all the other things we’ve come to know and love about the show. Only one problem. No one cared, like at all. According to Variety, the Oscar ratings were about as bad as you could ever imagine. Which begs the question: if an Oscar is awarded but no one is around to hear it, did it actually happen?
Variety has the numbers on the Oscar ratings and man it’s a rough scene for the awards show. Apparently, over the course of the telecast, which happened remotely for almost everyone, the audience didn’t creep over the 10 million mark on average. For perspective, that’s close to a 60% drop-off year-over-year compared to the 2020 awards show. This is a bottom-of-the-barrel number for the show which barely registered a blip on the public viewing consciousness Sunday night. Few mustered up the energy or the excitement to tune into an award show around movies they probably didn’t see anyway. Heck, one of the biggest *moments* was when Brad Pitt made a man-bun appearance to give out Best Supporting Actress. This was tantamount to a big reveal as far as this show was concerned.
Now, the Oscar ratings hitting a near-all-time low in viewership isn’t without context. There were a lot of factors conspiring against this year’s program that were going to make it difficult to drum up much excitement. For starters, it was a terrible year just for movies and releases in general. Many a studio held back major releases because of the pandemic, meaning we just had fewer movies in the aggregate to choose from. With studios hoping to recoup dollars when theaters start opening up to bigger capacities, there wasn’t much incentive to get bigger blockbuster films out there anyway.
So the show had an overall talent and buzz issue right from the jump, leading to a drop in Oscar ratings. Most of the movies that were even nominated weren’t likely to have been part of any aspect of the zeitgeist. And while deserving from an artistic standpoint, when it’s tough to get people to the theaters, it’s going to be tough to gain a groundswell around certain flicks or performances. For example, Frances McDormand won Best Actress for Nomadland which also won for Best Picture. This film, while beautiful, did $6.5 million total at the box office.
And another issue was the production of the Oscars itself. What’s generally known as the biggest night in Hollywood with red carpet interviews, musical numbers, jokes at the talent’s expense and all manner of bread and circus became a glorified zoom call. There was a socially distanced and remote element to the proceedings that was so divergent from previous shows that even if you tuned in with excitement, you likely tuned out just as quickly. What’s an award show without the crowds? Not much really and showed in the Oscar ratings.
Even though it might be a one-year major blip, the ratings had been dropping over the years. Plus there’s a financial aspect of this in which the Academy might not hit certain advertisement thresholds in their deal with ABC. So this one year might end up being a bigger problem going forward.