Oscar Ratings Have Hit a Historic Low Because Fewer People Care

Oscars ratings
Credit: No One Cares
Is this a pandemic-created blip, or a part of a larger trend?

The Academy Awards grew over time into a must-see television event, but as the television event hit all-time lows this year, a few questions loom. Mainly, who had the best red carpet look?

Just kidding. We're here to talk about this drop-off in viewership, and what it might say about the general state of the relationship between the film industry and itself. Because one thing the Academy Awards has less and less to do with is audiences.

First, let's consider the data from CNN. In doing so, we should also acknowledge that the Nielsen ratings are a horrible arcane method of measurement. But it is at least a consistent metric we have over time.

The 2021 event drew an average of 9.8 million viewers, 58% lower than last year's previous lowest-rated ever, which was at 23.6. 

 

 

Things went from bad to worse. The heavy caveat being this was not the best two-year stretch for movie-going... in fact, it might be the worst. Which is obviously a huge part of these low ratings. 

But a strong counterargument could be made... wasn't this the year that everyone should have had the easiest time watching all nominated films? They were all available to stream, and everyone's been at home. Many people are still at home, so why not tune in to the Oscars? 

All award show ratings have dropped during the pandemic, CNN points out. Another factor is that this was a year plus of smaller releases.

But it's not just about this year. It's a trend. Check out this chart from Statista.com:

Oscar telecast numbers
Credit: Statista
But here is another interesting data point to consider. How popular are the movies that win best picture? 

Over the last few decades, in terms of box office revenue, best picture winners have absolutely plummeted. 

Box office for best pictures
Credit: Statista

Just note how much more money the winners to start the aughts brought in than the movies of recent years did. And also, ignore the fact that 2020-2021 have pandemic impacted data. 2016-2019 all reflect a sharp drop. 

The last winner to gross over $100 million was Argo in 2013. 

Box office numbers have declined in general. People stream more content. But the entire business model is changing. 

This leads us to the all-important question:

Are the Oscars becoming a niche within a niche?

These sorts of questions often lead us to conversations about how to fix the Oscars, which is like treating the symptom and not the disease. 

The disease is more related to how movies are marketed, who they are made for, and the relationship between the industry at large and the audiences around the country. 

In a sense, the Academy Awards are suffering their own predestined fate. It's becoming entirely insulated and incestuous. It's an extended public act of self-celebration. The people getting the awards and up for them are... the people voting. 

Oscars ratings

How can audiences hope to feel connected? They can't, because they're not. The Oscars are the industry's way of telling you who to watch, what to like, and what was good. It's essentially another marketing platform, and the money spent on it reflects that. 

Awards for movies are always subjective. But if there were public awards based on either critics' votes, like say the way sportswriters choose an MVP in a sports league, it would feel slightly more separated from what the very same businesses are trying to promote. 

While there could be some interest in knowing what player in a league the other players and owners and managers think is the best, it's again, an internal process. 

Audience awards are also an interesting idea. 

Of course, the Golden Globes are an example of a non-industry group handing out awards, and they're no model of behavior on any level at all. 

Have we fallen into the trap of trying to fix the Oscars? 

Sort of. The Oscars are unfixable. The reality is, they will likely continue to decline in viewership for a myriad of reasons. Feature films and the feature film industry need to connect to younger viewers and larger audiences in different ways. The internal process of rewarding specific films and filmmakers is not terribly interesting to people. It will not make a comeback. 

The great thing about this year's Oscars was that the Academy diversified in its nominees and winners. It set a bunch of long-overdue historic benchmarks. There is of course a very good chance many people take the absolute wrong lesson from the decline in numbers and think it's proof that audiences care less about female filmmakers or diverse voices. That's far from the truth, and there is tons of data to prove it. 

It's more about the sheer glut of content available to people. The reality is, Emerald Fennell and Chloé Zhao are far more likely to hit bigger audience numbers when they get their hands on existing IP. Whether we like it or not. That's how you hit more eyeballs these days. 

If this internal process of self-award is how the entertainment industry develops its own talent to then hand over larger properties, it could almost be seen as a minor league system. Are the Oscars... the minor leagues? 

Probably not the right metaphor. But the reality is, the Academy Awards' impact on the culture at large is dwindling. Fewer people see these movies, and fewer people see these awards shows. The most important art will never be measured by awards or box office numbers or even how many people appreciate it. 

Wait... then what exactly does measure the value of quality of art? 

I have my thoughts. But what are yours? Leave them in the comments.     

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38 Comments

Pretty much all nominated films were shite.
Nomadland being one of the worst.
Studentfilm level filmmaking, that only got attention because Francis mcdormand is in it.

April 27, 2021 at 10:44AM

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I think the big reasons are that everyone is waking up to the fact that all the noms and wins are basically bought from the academy. The oscars are not awarding movies for excellence, it's a money game, thus leaving out films that actually deserve to be there.

Also, I don't think anyone under 40 has TV/cable anymore, just like we don't have printers. I'm sure there are sites that stream the oscars but no one really wants to search that out just to watch a 2 and a half-hour ad for hollywood. Especally when we know we can come to sites like this the next morning and get a full list of noms and winners in five mins.

The oscars can be fixed but it would mean a huge overhaul that goes against the money making reason it exists in the first place. Someone could be very successful by making a new award show that's not bought...

April 27, 2021 at 10:57AM

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bp
845

The only thing that measures the quality of art is the individual. The audience is always right. If you don't believe this then you don't know who your audience is

April 27, 2021 at 12:12PM

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David Patrick Raines
Actor/Writer/Director
1

I partially agree. What I disagree on is categories like sound design, costume design, cinematography; the average Joe doesn't understand what goes into great sound design or cinematography, whereas sound designers and cinematographers have a lot better insight into how these work and why one may be more technically impressive than another. Similar with Directing, writing and make-up.

The Audience isn't always right either. Some of the best films of all time were often failures at the box office. If "The Boss" out-grossed "10 Cloverfield Lane" and "Sing Street" or "Fast 8" and "Boss Baby" out-grossed "Logan" and "Get Out" then you can't say emphatically and exclusively that the Audience is always right. Sometimes the masses want trash.

To sum up, you aren't wholly incorrect, The Audience factor is important, but so is the input of people who know the intricacies of the art of filmmaking. You need both.

April 28, 2021 at 10:20AM

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McSaint
Director, Cinematographer, Editor and Colorist
133

Again, if you don't believe the audience is always right, you don't... know... who... your... audience... is...

When it comes to things like cinematography, sound design, etc., they are also always right. They may not be able to articulate what's wrong but they can can sense it.

I never said the input of people who know the intricacies of the art of filmmaking wasn't important because guess what? They are also the audience. Literally anyone watching the film is the audience. The audience is always right.

April 28, 2021 at 12:10PM

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David Patrick Raines
Actor/Writer/Director
1

Braden, this is an elitist attitude for which I have long run out of patience

April 29, 2021 at 12:51AM, Edited April 29, 12:53AM

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David Patrick Raines
Actor/Writer/Director
1

David, it seems my comment was spontaneously (or deliberately) removed. Either way, it's a pity a contrasting opinion couldn't be voiced in rebuttal to your statement.

I won't go to the trouble of committing anymore time to restating my initial post -- as it was extensive and several paragraphs in length -- but I'll address your opinion towards my perceived attitude of 'elitism.'

You seem to be confusing elitism with competency. My argument is in support of competent and experienced individuals weighing in and accurately criticizing an artform with sound rationale, metrics and standards that reflect the intricacies of a complex craft (ie. filmmaking.) This is in support of competency. An elitist attitude would advocate for privilege, wealth and social status as the benchmarks of determining the worth of arts and culture. "Pro Competency" is not the same as elitism.

Hopefully this reply isn't flagged or removed simply because another person in this thread is offended or 'runs out of patience.' Doing that would, I don't know... be kinda' elitist... wouldn't it?

May 3, 2021 at 11:19AM

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Braden
559

I cannot roll my eyes enough or groan louder at this comment. You've doubled-down on your patronizing arrogance.

May 3, 2021 at 12:56PM

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David Patrick Raines
Actor/Writer/Director
1

Welp. I can't clarify my stance any further. If rolling your eyes and groaning is your only retort then I'll leave you to your preference of trite platitudes over meaningful discourse.

A final thought: As I'm an audience to your initial post, it stands to reason that I'm right in this debate. Correct? Lol.

May 3, 2021 at 3:24PM

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Braden
559

I think that another factor is that there is no free way to see this outside the US.

Seriously, if they've broadcast it in an official Youtube or Twitch people would watch it, not that many people care about cable tv anymore.

Just see The game awards as an example: 43 millions views.

April 27, 2021 at 9:53PM

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Jesús Vanegas
Director, Director Of Photography, Writter
84

Have two teens and they mostly see twitch and sometimes youtube. Traditional TV is over. Bye! In Spain, some smart ass hired a famous twitcher to comment football matches as their traditional paying cable tv viewers are dangerously down for the sport biz. Get a popular twitcher or youtuber to comment live the Oscars next time!

April 28, 2021 at 1:41AM, Edited April 28, 1:42AM

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Javier Diez
Filmmaker
460

Totally agree! I was trying to get my rabbit ear antenna to get ABC but had to just give up, I only get a few networks and don't want to pay for the local channels when I only watch a few select things from it. They need to find a better way to broadcast it.

April 28, 2021 at 3:33PM

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Stephen Herron
Writer/Director
1847

This! I tried watching it, could not find NOWHERE to watch it. Obviously im outside the USA.
After 15 minutes , i just said fuck it! Open it up on youtube or like, stop thinking about making money
for once you fucking capitalistic pigs and come on down to 2021. Done.

April 30, 2021 at 9:13AM

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If you live outside of the US you have zero effect on the US ratings.

May 5, 2021 at 2:52PM

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Joe Sand
Actor, Writer, Director, Editor
420

It’s a major indication that, despite what mainstream media would have us believe, most people actively dislike the ‘woke’ craziness that is strangling this country. The pendulum has swung insanely far left and people are finally voting with their feet. I’m just surprised it took this long...

April 27, 2021 at 11:05PM

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Bishop
303

Poor hypothesis.

April 29, 2021 at 8:24PM

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Hmmm. Or maybe there is another, less Newsmaxy reason?

April 30, 2021 at 9:06AM

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LOL! I'm surprised I had to scroll this long before finding the "left Hollywood is too woke" excuse. Considering the trend happened before a certain demographic co-opted the word "woke," I think the answer reason for the decline in Oscar viewership is simply overall changes in viewing habits and the lack of interest in the movies the Academy chooses to recognize. Clearly the Academy and the average American film viewer have completely different tastes.

May 11, 2021 at 6:44AM

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People don't care about the Oscars cause the academy as a whole has made it clear it doesn't care about people.

April 27, 2021 at 11:10PM

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Sketkh Williams
StoryArtist
366

The trouble with the Oscars is that is elitist. End of story. Do these awards really matter? Probably only to the people who actually win them. Ricky Gervais was actually spot on what he said when he hosted the Golden Globes in 2020.
Even though there were some super quality films made in the last year, the landscape has changed. The pandemic has added to this. There is just so much more content online. Just go to Youtube and watch any content from the 'Dust' channel. Some really outstanding shorts here. That's just one example. I think most ordinary people who enjoy movies are just interested in that, the experience of watching the film mostly from the comfort of their own home. They are not interested in the back slapping, multi millionaire actors, producers, directors who use award platforms to rant and rave about some political view rather than just accept the award for what they won, and were paid to do.
This is a truly exciting time for filmmakers as it's possible to make a film and upload it to your own group of followers, subscribers. In a world where everyday it seems that someone, somewhere is receiving and award for something. There is something quite fresh about not wanting any award but to create more and more visual content for people who really like watching films.

April 28, 2021 at 4:55AM

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I have seen only Tenet and Greyhound. I have no idea what are those films who received main awards? Looking at trailers they are boring and don't have movie magic element anymore.

April 28, 2021 at 5:20AM

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Regis.U
Filmmaker
342

Long story short: oscars night has become propaganda and politics platform. This is nothing connected to movies and industry. And everyone is feeling that and ratings will be wors even more.

April 28, 2021 at 9:43AM

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I don't know, maybe it has something to do with the people waking up to the fact that we're all being controlled by a global Elite and their propaganda is being endlessly forced down our throats by the Hollywood machine. The agenda has finally gotten old and only the most brainwashed among us even care about this sort of thing. It's rigged political theater and utterly pointless.

April 28, 2021 at 11:11AM

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Personally to me the problem is that the academy awards are for a super niche market that doesn't apply to most people anymore. What's worse is that it has become a series of awards that cater to a very specific type of movie and most studios exploit that. Like clockwork every year you can see the flood of "Oscar bait" movies released toward the end of the year.

The last decade or so, when the awards were announced and I hear the nominees I always think "meh haven't seen any of those and aren't interested".

Looking at the best picture winners I think the last one I watched was Spotlight in 2016. Haven't bothered with the rest since then. And even then I didn't watch it theaters, it was like two years after at home.

Honestly when I think of the academy awards these days I always think of the fake trailer "Satan's Alley" in front of Tropic Thunder.

April 29, 2021 at 11:40AM

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"Fewer people care" about being lectured to by the Hollywood elite.

April 30, 2021 at 8:53AM

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No one cares. I watch better content on YouTube. Hollywood is obsolete. Should have stayed away from being political. Now, if there were an award show for YouTube creators, that could be very interesting.

April 30, 2021 at 9:04AM

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Pete Halas
Blogger
98

To me, the Oscars have always been for the people -the paying audiences. The only time I watched an Oscars show was in film school.
I know two people with oscars who have both said to me on different occasions, that the Oscar was nice, but they had already worked to a point in their careers where the kudos of having won one, and the additional career spurn an Oscar teases, had deflated considerably. One of these people used to prop the door open in the summer with it...

April 30, 2021 at 1:32PM

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devtank
photographer
241

Oscars are really just a marketing scheme for the film industry. Hardly for the people.

May 8, 2021 at 5:12PM

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My wife and I tuned in for the red carpet show except there was no show. No throngs of adoring fans. No spectacle. We lost interest quickly.

April 30, 2021 at 2:52PM

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Dave Palmer
Retired Electrical Engineer
244

After a pretty reasonable run of mostly quality Best Pictures that were also extremely popular with audiences in the 1990's, the Academy has gradually been choosing films that less and less people care about for the last 20 years. It's no coincidence that the only win of the 21st Century that I thought deserved to win was "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" the film at the top of your highest grossing list. And the idea that increasing the number of nominees for Best Picture would make room for more popular films has completely backfired! They just nominate more films that no one cares about!
Honestly, how is that out of 23 remarkable films in the Marvel Cinematic universe, only ONE has ever won Oscars for ANYTHING, even in the technical categories where they excel? Is the message of the Oscars that the bread and butter of the movie industry, the audience pleasing movies, have no actual value? No wonder people tune out! But that's far from the only reason that audiences for the awards are dwindling. What is with the catastrophic decision to stop having a strong comedy host for the program? Where are the Bob Hopes, Johnny Carsons, and Billy Crystals? Jimmy Kimmel wasn't the best but his shows were wildly more entertaining than these past three years! The Academy used to care about showmanship, about putting on an entertaining program! This year's Oscars were virtually unwatchable, they were so boring! And the pandemic is no excuse for throwing entertainment out the window! If the Academy wants to stay relevant, they'd better remember that high ratings are earned, not owed to them. Make an entertaining show where people might actually get to see a film they loved win an Oscar and they will tune in!

May 1, 2021 at 1:38AM

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Alan Sanborn
Writer/Director
11

It’s because what used to be a celebration of cinema has now become a platform for Hollywood elitists to preach far-left, radical ideologies, all whilst pretending said ideologies are normal — and the vast majority of real people are extremely tired of it.

May 1, 2021 at 4:53AM

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People don't care because they are being bombarded with too much "woke" messaging now and movie-makers / actors have become so blatantly expressive of hateful political rhetoric. Frankly, it's a real turnoff. Viewers don't like the actors, don't care to see their movies, are looking to alternative producers to give them good, honest stories that don't smack the viewer with political bludgeons.

When it is this painfully obvious that the folks making movies are trying to pound fringe ideas into our heads instead of give us wholesome, believable, relatable stories, then the movies just won't have a lot of appeal. And few are willing to sit and watch an Oscars ceremony devoted to insulting Americans and trashing their nation.

We are still lucky to have a diversity of story-tellers out there so we don't have to watch the political manipulations. We still have choices. Great. Let's never become Cuba, please.

May 1, 2021 at 10:09AM

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The big reveal of the winner isn't interesting, especially when those people usually sweep every award show the precedes it. If the Oscars was less of a patting yourself on the back affair and more of a BTS show, I think they would get more viewers. I don't mean what they did this year with the, Aaron Sorkin used to make popcorn BS. Little featurettes on how these movies were made is something I think would inspire new/developing filmmakers or at the very least be interesting to fans of the films.

Watching the nominees and then announcing a winner serves the gambling industry more than Hollywood. Just announce the winners and show a little documentary on how they captured that sound effect or designed the costumes or how they researched the character. Who wants to listen to someone thank their agents, publicist, manager, parents, and then go on a rant about whatever hot button issue is popular this year?

The Academy could use this opportunity to teach us how these brilliant films were made. That would give people more of a reason to want to watch them.

May 2, 2021 at 6:20AM

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Why, as a person who enjoys movies beloved by myself, my family, and all my friends, would I bother watching a bunch of old industry hacks award each other for objectively and relatively unpopular material that my friends and I wouldn't otherwise care about?

You can't shun the popular movie industry for twenty years and then go "bwuh?" when a generation of moviegoers no longer relate to you and stop caring what you think.

Do I think Avengers: Endgame should have won Best Picture? No, but I do think that it deserved to be taken more seriously as a work of art in its own way by the Academy. But it didn't get the slightest nod from the academy for any awards despite its achievements, except for a shitty "Best visual effects" nomination. That's for a movie that was a culmination of 10+ years of storytelling, a generation of cinematic blockbuster evolution into an objectively beloved and lauded film. Why wasn't it taken seriously as a representative of its part of cinematic history? Because the oldies consider it trash cinema? Well there's the Oscars problem with popularity.

The age of the Oscars dictating cinematic achievement is long over. If they don't get with the program, they'll only go one way from here.

May 5, 2021 at 6:02AM

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Look. We all know the actual reason why the ratings are plummeting. The forced "diversifying" of the winners. We now have a show where it isn't about artistic merit but about how "woke" you gender or etnicity is.
No wonder people tune out.
Imagine if NBa games allowed white guys 5 bonus points every time they scored for "Diversity" reasons. The audience would tune out pretty quickley as well.

We all know this. Stop pretending.

May 5, 2021 at 2:46PM

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Joe Sand
Actor, Writer, Director, Editor
420

Thank you for giving me the dumbest thing I’ll read all week.

May 6, 2021 at 5:58AM

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So by your logical the overwhelmingly white and male winners are ALL worthy artists and the much smaller number of non-white and non-male winners are ALL unworthy artists.

There's a name for thinking like that and it ends in -ist.

May 11, 2021 at 6:51AM

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The Oscars have lowered their audience because they began to shoot themselves in the foot. Rewarding movies like Rome just to favor a certain community (a very boring movie by the way) and making policies of inclusion and activism by certain groups in their awards has made them lose interest and cause discomfort and discomfort. People are not stupid and they know when a movie is good, rewarding only to favor certain groups was also the death of this Award. my two cents!

February 12, 2022 at 5:24PM

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Carlos Hugo Vaca
Director Photography
1