The Oscars battle for relevance in the age of streaming

Illustration of a game icon pushing an Oscar statuette off the screen.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

All the pieces are in place for the Oscars to return on Sunday. But if a list of popular movies and the spark of last year’s controversial show can’t save its ratings, then this might be its last gasp of relevance instead.

Why is this important: Big awards shows like the Oscars and Emmys have long been big business for broadcast television networks — but their importance has declined along with their viewership.

  • “If you can’t get an audience this year, I don’t know what else you have to do,” Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore, told Axios.

Enlarge: The buzz around this year’s nominees should be a boon for the ratings.

  • The box office total for this year’s Best Picture nominees is the highest in 13 years, led by last year’s two highest-grossing films: ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ and ‘Top Gun : Maverick”.
  • A24’s indie hit story “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is the undisputed favorite to win in several major categories, including Best Picture.
  • ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ star Angela Bassett could also earn the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first big Oscar win.

The plot: Last year’s Slapgate and social media uproar over Andrea Riseborough’s surprise Best Actress nomination also raised the show’s profile, albeit for controversial reasons.

  • Dergarabedian thinks last year’s jaw-dropping moment between Will Smith and Chris Rock will inspire more people to tune in live. “When the slap happened last year, I think a lot of people were caught watching. … The FOMO factor can come into play.”

Yes, but: HBO will air the season finale of “The Last of Us” directly against the Oscars on Sunday night.

By the numbers: Viewership for awards shows has plummeted in the age of social media, as fans now have multiple ways to find out who won major categories without going through an hour-long TV show.

  • Once known as Hollywood’s Super Bowl, the Oscars drew north of 40 million viewers. But the past two years have seen the smallest audience in the show’s history, falling below 20 million viewers.
  • Even with that dwindling viewership, it’s still a major revenue driver for ABC, which has aired the show since 1976.

  • It is the most expensive non-sports ad buy, costing advertisers more than $2 million for a 30-second ad and generating approximately $125 million in ad revenue.

“It’s not just TV ratings who is going to be the judge of that. It’s going to be social chatter. What are people saying about this year’s Oscars?” Dergarabedian adds.

The big picture: Awards shows are moving away from linear television towards streaming.

  • After airing on cable for 25 years, the SAG Awards moved to Netflix’s YouTube channel this year and will air on Netflix starting next year.
  • In 2021, the Academy of Country Music Awards left its longtime home of CBS, where it aired for 23 years, for Amazon after CBS balked at the price of keeping the show on its airwaves.
  • The Golden Globes are finding a new television home and are almost certain to leave NBC after 27 years.
  • TV deals for the Emmys, Grammys, and Tonys all run through 2026, while the current Oscar deal expires in 2028.

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