Why you should care
Because everyone needs a reason to watch.
This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.
WHAT TO KNOW
What’s happening? The 91st Academy Awards are just two days away. But judging by the lead-up to Hollywood’s biggest annual bash — marred partly by host Kevin Hart’s departure amid homophobic tweets, as well as by widely criticized moves to attract more viewers — it’s unclear how many people will even tune in Sunday. Faced with sinking ratings since 2014, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will soon find out whether its attempts to remedy that downward trend will pay off.
Why does it matter? Once slammed for the low number of minorities and women within the Academy, the institution has experienced significant change in recent years. The #OscarsSoWhite movement of 2015 and 2016 sparked serious soul searching, and as a result, the Academy has boosted the cultural and gender-based diversity of its membership. Yet now millennial viewership is reportedly down 56 percent from five years ago, raising still other questions about the relevance of this ostensibly time-honored institution. Can it continue evolving with the times?
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
Desperate times … Overtly political speeches, long telecasts and even the flagging popularity of the nominees themselves are among the reasons often cited for the yearslong slide in U.S. ratings. When box office smash Titanic won best picture in 1998, a record 57 million people tuned in; last year, only 26.5 million watched The Shape of Water take the top prize. But while U.S. numbers are dropping, the event apparently still captures imaginations and attention around the world. In 2015, for instance, 4.5 million viewers tuned in from India (despite the more than 10-hour time difference), while Brazil reportedly clocked a 17-percent jump in viewership that same year.
… require desperate measures? In a bid to address the nosedive in U.S. viewership, the Academy and show producers introduced several new innovations this year, ranging from the seemingly logical to the downright curious. The top priority has been to keep broadcast time down to around three hours — meaning winners will be given 90 seconds to get from seat to speech. Before quickly backtracking, the Academy had also opted to feature performances by only two of the five best original song nominees, as well as to relegate several awards, like cinematography and editing, to commercial breaks. What’s more, organizers recruited superstars from outside the world of cinema — such as tennis pro Serena Williams and Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello — to each introduce a best picture nominee, and have cut “everyday people” from appearing in segments.
Tough crowd. Not all of those changes went over smoothly. Trying to limit the award presentations included in the broadcast prompted a backlash, including from best picture-nominated director Alfonso Cuarón. And forget about the ill-fated, poorly explained “best popular film” category: Panned by critics as a ploy for ratings, the Academy dropped that idea last autumn (although it’s reportedly not entirely dead yet). There’s also the challenge of capturing perhaps the most important demographic: millennials. Cord-cutters who want to watch can pick up a digital indoor antenna for as little as $20-30 and tune in. But during an age when access to celebrities is easy, thanks to social media, some suggest spicing up the show by featuring more candid, genuine moments rather than Hollywood politics or inside jokes. “It’s a celebration of entertainment,” one 31-year-old production executive told The Hollywood Reporter, “so shouldn’t it be entertaining?”
Films of the future. This year’s picks for the top honor also signal how the Oscars are changing. While a Black Panther victory is a longshot, its nomination is a nod to big-budget, mega-popular superhero flicks. A win by Cuarón’s Roma, which appears more likely, would result in the first-ever foreign flick taking best picture. It remains to be seen whether these developments can stoke more interest among viewers. Either way, in true competitive spirit, there’s still no clear consensus over who will win.
WHAT TO READ
Why the Oscars Are Losing Millennials, by Ella Cerón in InStyle
“Rules like the Academy’s Los Angeles screening clause suggest that viewers who haven’t gone to a theater and spent ever-increasing sums of money on tickets don’t ‘count.’”
It’s Time for Gender-Fluid Oscar Categories, by Amber Thornton in OZY
“Today’s rigid Oscar categories imply that men’s and women’s work are inherently incapable of being compared, a premise offensive to all genders.”
WHAT TO WATCH
2019 Oscars Controversies, Explained
“If you look at it right now, movie stardom isn’t what it used to be — we see these people all the time.”
Watch on Variety on YouTube:
How Each Best Picture Nominee Could Win
“If one film gets 50 percent of the vote — it’s done. If not, the film with the lowest number of first-place votes is eliminated, and on each ballot the second-place voter slides up.”
Watch on The Ringer on YouTube:
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER
Crunching numbers. The Oscars ceremony costs around $44 million — with some $400 going to each 24-karat gold-plated statuette, and $24,700 shelled out for the 16,500-square-foot red carpet. But that’s good news for the Los Angeles economy, which reportedly enjoys a $130 million annual boost from the ceremony.