As the roar of responses to Sunday’s Oscar ceremony dies down, it’s important to keep in mind that the award, while not nearly the only avenue to cultural immortality, is still important to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars and untold cache with movie-loving audiences. Film is the center, the core beneath all the bright lights and flash, but it would be foolish to think that the production itself doesn’t lend credence to the weight of the award and, thus, the weight of the propulsion that the statue can lend to the names inside the envelopes.
But the landscape is changing. There are other awards developing their own prestige, the way we watch movies is shifting, and audiences are diversifying far beyond where the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can currently manage.
Since the future is unclear, we need an expert. Someone who knows what the future holds. Fortunately, I know someone. I’ve called upon a media expert named Molly (using Kurzweilian technology) who lives and works in the year 2023 to talk about the Oscar ceremony they just watched and what we past-dwellers might expect to see in the next ten years.
Thanks for doing this Molly. It’s an amazing opportunity.
My pleasure. Always excited to get nostalgic. I’m a big fan of the Looper franchise.
I’ll definitely have to ask about that later, but since we’re talking about the Oscars, what’s the biggest change the awards show saw between now and your time?
Technologically speaking or content-wise?
Let’s start with technologically.
Well, to understand that, you first have to know that TV as you know it — as I knew it growing up — and how it works now are slightly different. Television and the Internet were merged completely by 2018 when the last major broadcasting and cable companies signed deals that fell in line with how most people were consuming media already. Apple TV evolving to include a screen was a big aid to that transition. It came with an iPad 9 that you could use, of course as a mobile device, but also as a remote control that made watching shows on your flat screen easy regardless of whether it was coming through satellite or over the internet.
So you could watch the same Oscars broadcast from ABC.com that you’d see on ABC.
You could a few years ago, but now those are the same thing for most people. TVs, phones, the internet. They’re all housed in the same devices anyway. What you think of as a TV channel is now an internet address that you access through a Smart Screen to watch programming. Wi-Fi even got so strong that a lot of people use it exclusively for TV streaming instead of raw cable.
That makes sense. We have Smart TVs now, and companies are selling broadband internet through the same cables that television travels.
But you also can’t watch the Oscars on ABC.com because they don’t broadcast them anymore. Fox does.
Fox continued to dominate as a network, and when ABC’s contract with AMPAS was up in 2020, Fox outbid them. Although I should mention ABC was at least forward-thinking enough to simultaneously stream the show online for the first time in 2015.
Streaming the 2013 show on Hulu must have been a success then. But let’s talk about content now. How has the show itself changed? Do people still view the Oscar as the highest honor Hollywood can give?
Oh, definitely, but its cultural power has diminished quite a bit.
Because the show hasn’t been able to adapt?
No, the show has definitely adapted. In 2014, Kathleen Kennedy was elected President of AMPAS and made some big changes.
Like simulcasting it online.
Like simulcasting it online, and like working with the Annenberg Innovation Lab at USC to better track public sentiment about what movies should be honored. It didn’t become the People’s Choice or anything, but Kennedy and the Board of Governor’s used the information coming from social media as a massive focus group that helped them understand what movies would bring in more viewers.
It’s no surprise that the year that Titanic won Best Picture was the most-watched Oscar broadcast until 2016. Even though it was the top movie awards show, ratings were slipping year after year. It was so bad that 2013’s show looked like a triumph with 40.3m domestic viewers. It was definitely due in part to the box office success of the movies being awarded, but compare it to the titanic 55.2m in 1998.
The biggest fish were still left off the dais until Kennedy used the Annenberg information to help guide Academy voters toward more populist fare.
Isn’t that cheating?
Some people felt so, but there were never any missives or commands from on high or anything. Still, a few members protested the move by resigning.
It’s not polite to name names, but let’s just say they were legacy members who had been complaining for years that the lofty goals of the Academy were being lost. Only a small group exited, and the ones who stayed most likely recognized the tough choice they had to make between diminishing power and the perceived dilution of prestige. As you can imagine, a lot of them took the Annenberg information and ran with it. Some pundits, including me, think it led directly to their highest ratings ever.
The show in 2016? What happened then?
The Avengers 2, Avatar 2 and Star Wars Episode VII: Jedis of the New Republic were all nominated for Best Picture, and Joss Whedon and James Cameron were nominated for Best Director. There were a lot of traditional prestige choices as well. Steve Zaillian’s A Thousand Splendid Suns and a Sundance darling that dealt with child hunger in America.
The other five nominees were about as safe as Oscar’s ever been, but the show that year was understandably massive.
And who won?
I’ll leave that as a surprise. I’m not really here to pad your office Oscar pool.
I can respect that. Did anything change with the categories?