The Oscars are fighting for relevance in the streaming age

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

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

Why it’s important: Major awards shows like the Oscars and Emmys have long been big business for broadcast networks — but their importance has been waning along with their ratings.

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

Zoom in: The buzz surrounding this year’s nominees should be a boon for ratings.

  • Total box office sales for this year’s Best Picture nominees are 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 success story “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is the runaway favorite to win in several major categories, including Best Picture.
  • “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” star Angela Bassett could also pick up the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first major Oscar win.

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

  • Dergarabedian thinks last year’s amazing moment between Will Smith and Chris Rock will get more people tuning in live. “When the slap happened last year, I think a lot of people were caught looking… the FOMO factor can kick in.”

But: HBO will air the season finale of “The Last of Us” right before the Oscars on Sunday night.

By the numbers: Viewership for awards shows has declined in the social media era, as fans now have more ways to find out who won the major categories without sitting through an hour-long telecast.

  • Once known as Hollywood’s Super Bowl, the Oscars used to draw north of 40 million viewers. But the last two years have drawn the smallest audience in the show’s history, falling below 20 million viewers.
  • Even with declining audiences, 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 commercial and bringing in about $125 million in ad revenue.

“It’s not just the TV broadcasts that will be the judge of this. It will be the social talk. What are people saying about this year’s Oscars?” adds Dergarabedian.

The big picture: Award shows are moving away from linear TV to streaming.

  • After airing for 25 years on cable, the SAG Awards moved to Netflix’s YouTube channel this year and will stream 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 award to keep the show on the air.
  • The Golden Globes are in the process of finding a new television home and are all but certain to leave NBC after 27 years.
  • The television contracts for the Emmys, Grammys and Tonys all run until 2026, while the Oscars’ current deal expires in 2028.

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