Maybe It’s Time For the Oscars To Undergo a Revamp

What the event is doing now clearly isn't working.

The ratings are in and this year’s broadcast of the Oscar awards fell to the lowest point since 2009 with 36.6 million viewers. (In 2009, Hugh Jackman hosted and the show had 36.3 million viewers.) It seemed to have all of the right elements: great host (who doesn’t love Neil Patrick Harris?), big stars, musical numbers. Even the acceptance speeches — the point when some people (ahem… me) usually go grab another glass of wine — were good.

But The New York Times has a headline that screams, “Oscars Show Growing Gap Between Moviegoers and Academy.” Many of the night’s big winners were seen by few viewers. Box office biggies like American Sniper, a movie that made more money in one weekend than Birdman made in months, failed to get very much attention. Moreover, the nominations and the event itself were heavily criticized for the lack of diversity.

“In the visual effects category, all five nominees, including the winner, ‘Interstellar,’ were the sort of grand blockbusters that keep Hollywood working and give it sheen around the world. Not one of them figured in a field of smaller-budget, little-seen best picture contenders that for months had dominated the awards conversation,” says the Times.

One problem we propose is the Oscars should probably rethink its sales pitch to audiences.

The Oscars are marketed as  “Hollywood’s biggest night.” For most people, that means they’re going to see the stars that they’ve been watching all year long in all their glory. They’re going to get a moment to celebrate their favorite film moments and cheer some more for the movies they’ve been cheering for all along. But that’s not what they’re getting, and they’re consistently disappointed about it.

Even the social media numbers from last year were down considerably. There was a 39 percent drop in tweets for the evening, probably because Ellen DeGeneres, last year’s host, took the biggest selfie of all time. This year, there were no selfies, but many more political and social statements.

The Academy has to do a better job of setting the tone so viewers know what to expect. It can’t be all things to all people. Maybe that means choosing a host like Ellen who can better interact with the audience versus NPH, who’s a magnificent showman, but doesn’t have the same flair with a joke.

Or if it’s going to be more high brow, be that. Otherwise, the article says the nominating process zeros in on smaller films, and it should probably be revamped. That’s a great idea. Crowd favorites like Guardians of the Galaxy are pushed into the categories no one really cares about. Maybe they need to break it down the way other shows do, by genre. Comedies can have a category, dramas another, maybe even action another. That would be much truer to the “we love all kinds of movies” vibe that the Academy pushes out.

Or maybe there just needs to be fewer categories, so we know that a select group of films will be honored and the awards will be handed out in two hours rather than 3 1/2.

Whatever they decide on, it needs to be a refreshed and definitive Oscar brand because just being the “biggest” isn’t working anymore.