The Academy Awards telecast, seen by most as Hollywood's biggest night, has been enjoying slight upticks in the ratings over the past couple of years. Whether that is due to the producers' choices of popular hosts (Seth MacFarlane and Ellen DeGeneres) or the nominated films posting very healthy box office numbers is up for debate. What matters to the Academy is that people were tuning in to their show.
This year, some expected that trend to continue, with the ultra-likable Neil Patrick Harris drawing the host gig for the 2015 Oscars show. However, moviegoers weren't all that interested in seeing Barney Stinson celebrate the year in film, as the awards broadcast scored the lowest ratings in quite some time.
Deadline is reporting that viewership for the awards ceremony was down by 17 percent in the coveted 18-49 demographic, and 18 percent overall when compared to last year. That's the lowest they've been since 2009 - a huge reason for concern considering that last year's telecast was the most-watched since 2000. Whatever the reason may be, the Oscars couldn't keep the interest of viewers this time around.
The likeliest culprits most people will point to are the Best Picture nominees themselves. Ever since expanding their top category to include a maximum of 10 films back in 2009, the Academy has done a solid job at ensuring that commercially successful works are recognized. Over the past couple of years, big box office hits like Avatar, Inception, Django Unchained, and Gravity were putting together Oscar campaigns in addition to drawing in large crowds.
In 2014, however, the Academy seemed to slip back to their more obscure choices. Clint Eastwood's American Sniper was the only Best Picture nominee to gross over $100 million by the night of the ceremony and had made more than its seven competitors combined. The average domestic total for a nominee this year was just $77.6 million: an average which is respectable, but a far cry from the averages of the past two years, where multiple blockbusters contended for Best Picture.
The other issue that some will raise is the bloated nature of the telecast. Beginning at 8:30 p.m. EST, Sean Penn didn't announce that Birdman had won Best Picture until 11:48 p.m. In between all the awards being handed out, viewers were expected to slog their way through comedy bits that arguably fell flat, musical performances, and several commercial breaks. In this day and age, fans can find out who wins in real time via social media and see any speeches they're interested in watching online shortly after the original telecast. The need to see the show live has decreased.
And, honestly, it's difficult to say what exactly can be done to fix this. The obvious answer is "nominate films people have seen," but that is a little disingenuous to the acclaimed movies that did get nominated. Whiplash, Boyhood, Birdman, and The Grand Budapest Hotel may not have become mainstream hits, but they all have their passionate supporters among cinephiles and received a boost in awareness thanks to the Oscar label. Maybe if studios made these awards contenders more readily available, they'd attract a wider audience.
It remains to be seen if this is something that will plague the Oscars for the next handful of years or is merely a blip on the radar. Looking ahead to 2015's award season (I know, bear with me...), there are offerings from filmmakers including Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, and David O. Russell among others that could prove to be more lucrative endeavors than the crop we just got. The Academy will spend the next 12 months figuring out how to retool their telecast, but the odds of a ratings boost are in their favor.