Award Shows: A Thing of the Past

Author: Vaishali Bansal, Graphics: Bella Aharonian

The BRB Bottomline

Televised award shows, such as the Grammys and Oscars, are starting to lose the popularity and viewership they once had. Due to generational trends and controversies, award shows have been on the decline for years. In this article, Community Columnist Vaishali Bansal attempts to explain the reasons behind this phenomenon.

In April, social media was ablaze with the news of Will Smith and his infamous slap after comedian Chris Rock made a joke about his wife. As chaotic as it was, the impromptu slap was a saving grace for the Oscars. Before news of the slap dropped, many people, myself included, did not even know that the Oscars were taking place. In fact, Will Smith’s slap managed to help boost this year’s Oscars viewership by a margin of 60% over that of the previous year. However, despite this increase, the Oscars turnout was still the second-lowest in history.

Decrease in Viewership

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic—which shut down in-person award shows, effectively crippling viewership—award show numbers had already been on a steady decline. Ratings for shows such as the Oscars, the Grammys, and the Golden Globes have been dropping, demonstrating a decline in popularity. This is in large part due to the rapid expansion of streaming services and broader accessibility to televised content on the internet. People are no longer subscribing to cable television and tuning into TV networks to watch their favorite shows and award ceremonies. Research shows that the number of Americans with cable television dropped significantly from 76% in 2015 to 56% in 2021. This downward trend is in part driven by the consumer behavior of younger generations entering the market, who are often not as interested in cable television; in fact, 61% of Americans aged 18 to 29 do not have cable television subscriptions

Another reason for this decline is the oversaturation of shows in the entertainment industry. In the past decades, the number of award shows in this market has skyrocketed: the VMAs, the Billboard Music Awards, People’s Choice Awards, Nickelodeon Choice Awards, the BET Awards, and the BAFTA Awards—the list goes on and on. This sheer number of award shows has decreased the excitement that high-profile shows such as the Grammys or the Oscars used to bring in the past. In other words, the award shows are “in a state of miserable permanence,” which has caused a shift away from this form of entertainment. No longer do award shows garner curiosity or excitement; with the sheer multitude of options, people can always find an alternative to satisfy their interests. 

The rise of social media has also played a significant role in the declining popularity of award shows. No longer do people need to tune into a television channel to learn who won. Real-time reporting, live feeds, highlights, social media features, and red-carpet interviews can all be found online with a simple search. 

The fact of the matter is that award shows are losing more and more of their audience each year. With the rise of social media and the internet, they have become old-fashioned relics of the past. So what can organizers do to generate higher interest and attract a wider audience?

Business Implications

For TV networks that host these award shows, the corresponding boom in streaming has caused a significant loss in profits. For example, NBC, which hosts the Golden Globes, earned just 33.8 million dollars in revenue in 2021, a decrease of 26% from the year prior. Similarly, ABC, which hosts the Oscars, faced a 14.2 million dollar revenue decline in 2021. A major source of revenue for award shows is the money they get through advertising. Despite this sharp decrease in viewership, the Oscars still managed to sell out all their ad inventory for 2021, a major source of their revenue—showing that for the time being, advertisers are still interested in marketing via popular award shows. However, if this drop in viewership continues, even advertisers will start to lose interest, which would decrease the revenue of TV networks even more.

Many believe that the recent woes of award shows originate from issues of clunky distribution, rather than fundamental issues with their content. As younger generations shift away from cable television to more streamlined content, a decrease in viewership is unavoidable. The Academy, which manages the Oscars, has attempted to solve this issue by partnering with TikTok creators and expanding their social media base in order to attract younger viewers. However, this new marketing strategy has only enjoyed limited success. 

Possible Solutions

Lack of Mainstream Media

One significant problem with the Oscars is that the majority of the nominations are for obscure, lesser-known films in Hollywood. Relatively underground films such as CODA and Nomadland—both winners of the Academy Award for Best Picture in the last few years—are movies that most Americans have never heard of. People are less likely to tune into an awards show when they are not attached to the nominees. If the Oscars included a larger number of mainstream films in their nominee deliberation, the audience turnout would be higher. In fact, in 2019, viewership grew by 12% due to the inclusion of box-office hits like Black Panther and Green Book

Award Shows Controversies

Furthermore, controversies regarding diversity and equality have cast a shadow on award shows. Once regarded as one of the highest achievements in their respective  industries, these shows have begun to suffer at the hands of shifting public opinion. The #OscarsSoWhite campaign in 2015 was a huge turning point; Americans took to social media to blast the Academy for its lack of representation and inclusion when it came to light that not a single nominee was a person of color. Even after attempts to diversify its nominations, no woman was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director in 2020, causing even more backlash. By choosing nominees through a more equal and inclusive perspective, the Academy Award organization would be able to pacify the public and start to grow its audience once again.

Award shows are gradually turning obsolete. With the explosion of social media and streaming services, as well as the decline of cable television, award shows have been simply unable to keep up. Like every other facet of the entertainment industry, award shows need to innovate and keep evolving if they want to remain relevant and retain their popularity.

Take-Home Points

  • Award shows have been facing declining viewership, ratings, and revenue since the start of the 2010s. 
  • This is in major part due to the decrease in cable television subscriptions and the boom of streaming services such as Netflix. 
  • Social media has further contributed to this decline by offering easily accessible real-time updates, live feeds, and award highlights.
  • Award shows like the Oscars have faced huge public backlash due to the lack of diversity and equality in their nominations.
  • If award shows want to regain their popularity, they must make fundamental changes in order to appeal to a new, younger audience.

1 Comment

  1. It is interesting to see how the award shows maintain the balance between mainstream popularity and academic acknowledgement

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