The 94th Academy Awards are March 27 – A ceremony that generates mixed emotions in film viewers.
The 93rd Academy Awards had the lowest rating in the show’s history of 10.4 million viewers, a decrease of 58%. While this is partially attributed to the low theater attendance rates during the COVID-19 pandemic, the pre-COVID-era 92nd Academy Awards had previously held the record for lowest ratings, at 23.6 million viewers.
The downward trend in Oscar interest, as well as awards shows in general, can be attributed to a myriad of reasons. However, one is clearly the most major, with “younger viewers simply not watching linear television,” said Ted Harbert, a former president of NBC and ABC, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. Harbert is correct in his assumption. Data from the Nielsen Total Audience Report reveals that Americans ages 18-24 watch significantly less television than all other age groups. Younger audiences are more used to consuming entertainment media through streaming services such as Netflix or YouTube. Live sporting events are the only event that younger audiences are likely to tune into due to their lack of availability on conventional streaming sites.
The selection of films that the Academy chooses to honor may play a part in low interest, as the awarded films are often not the highest-grossing films of the year. When Titanic, which was the first film to gross over $1 billion, was up for several Oscar nominations in 1998, the ceremony became the most-watched in the show’s history at 57.2 million viewers. The Academy Awards have frequently been criticized by more dedicated film fans as well. David Torres, a film and media teacher at Wheaton College Massachusetts, said he would not be watching the Oscars this year.
“They only celebrate a certain type of film,” Torres says. Torres says that the Oscars tend to prefer traditional and accessible films, rather than ones that experiment with the film medium and push it forward.
The Academy Honorary Award can be an avenue for the Academy to recognize more unconventional filmmakers. Recent winners include David Lynch, Agnès Varda, Frederick Wiseman and Jean-Luc Godard (who refused to attend due to both a lack of a visa and a lack of interest). However, the award is presented at the much-less viewed Governor’s Ball, which somewhat cheapens the impact.
The Academy has also come under scrutiny for its low focus on films outside of the United States. However, the choice to award Best Picture to Korean film Parasite at the 2020 Oscars may signal the beginning of a change. The Japanese film Drive My Car scored four nominations at the upcoming awards show.
Torres acknowledges that awards shows such as the Oscars are commendable for their celebration of film. “The Oscars offer a good starting point for learning about films,” he says. “But they are not the end point.”