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Covid Fatigue: The Oscars are a week away, but will anyone watch?
Neither intimate looks into stars’ living rooms nor scantily clad pop stars performing provocative hits have been able to stop audiences from tuning out award shows this year.
The ratings for the Grammys were down by 53%. Golden Globes viewership plummeted more than 60%. Now, as Hollywood prepares for a coronavirus-delayed Academy Awards telecast April 25 on ABC, it is faced with the ultimate doomsday scenario: that the viewing public is ready to toss its premier showcase into the entertainment dustbin, plopped next to variety shows. Oscar, meet Lawrence Welk and his bubbles.
At a time when the traditional film industry is fighting for its primacy at the center of American culture — with at-home entertainment soaring in popularity and pandemic-battered theater chains closing — a collective shrug for the Oscars would send Hollywood deeper into an identity crisis. And a shrug certainly could happen. Guts + Data, a research firm that focuses on entertainment, said last month that only 18% of active film watchers (in theatres or at home) had heard of Mank, the Netflix film leading the Oscar race with 10 nominations.
“When even I find myself having a hard time caring, that’s a problem,” said Jeanine Basinger, founder of Wesleyan University’s film studies department and author of Hollywood histories like “The Star Machine.” Some people in the entertainment industry, whether out of optimism or denial or both, believe that award shows are simply going through a temporary downturn because of the unique circumstances of the pandemic.
But Nielsen ratings for the Oscars were already in free fall before the pandemic, plunging 44 % between 2014 and last year, when 23.6 million people watched the South Korean dramatic thriller Parasite win the top prize. An additional drop on a par with the Globes show in February would put the Oscars audience in the catastrophic single-digit millions.
Much more than vanity is at stake. The Academy Awards have long been an economy unto themselves, with companies like Netflix spending $30 million or more to campaign for a single film and Disney, which owns ABC, committed to paying more than $900 million for the worldwide broadcast rights through 2028. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is not conceding defeat. The organisation, which generates about $90 million a year in after-expenses income from the Oscars telecast, has handed the show to one of Hollywood’s most celebrated directors, Steven Soderbergh. He and his fellow producers, Stacey Sher and Jesse Collins, have been asked to shake up the telecast while also sticking to tradition (awarding statuettes in 24 categories, including the “boring” technical ones) and complying with pandemic safety restrictions.
If that wasn’t difficult enough, the three have the additional challenge of attempting to jump-start theatre-going when most of the world is more than a year out of the habit. “We’re really not getting much advertiser interest,” said Michelle Chong, planning director at Atlanta-based agency Fitzco, “and it’s not something we’ve been pushing.”
The writers are reporters with NYT©2021
The New York Times
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