By Chris Balboni
The story of the 91st Academy Awards so far: a “Best Popular Film” category announced and then scrapped after immediate ridicule; Kevin Hart invited to be the host, only to see that invitation rescinded, offered again and abandoned altogether in favor of having no host at all; the announcement that the awards for best cinematography and best editing will not be shown on the televised broadcast, followed by scathing backlash from dozens of big names in the film industry, causing that decision to be reversed as well.
It’s been a rough few years for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, and with ratings consistently dropping for the past decade, they are desperate to keep public and professional support. Unfortunately for AMPAS, it’s all for nothing.
The problem that the Academy faces isn’t one that can be solved by diversifying its membership as they claimed to a few years ago, nor can they rake in a younger audience by nominating blockbusters with the blatant pandering of a category like Best Popular Film. They won’t draw more people in via presenter monologues filled with wholesome comedy and trite political remarks, or restore the 45-plus million viewers they had in the 1990s by making the ceremony three hours long instead of four. The ceremony is a product of a bygone age of television, and it’s time for the Academy to face that.
Audiences for live events have been decreasing for years as cord-cutting has become a necessary lifestyle for the next generation. In 2017, Nielsen reported that 25 to 34 year olds consumed less than half as much live TV as our 50- to 64-year-old counterparts, and by 2020 it’s expected that 48 million U.S. households won’t be bothering at all with cable subscriptions. As a generation, we’re less and less interested in paying outlandish satellite or cable subscription fees with multi-year contracts, and most of us can’t afford them anyway. Will we miss the Emmys, the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards in our own homes? Sure. Does the majority of anyone under the age of 35 care enough to triple their monthly expenses? No. AMPAS could make the ceremony 90 minutes and give awards to only the biggest box office hits of the year — it still won’t bring back viewers.
Even if cable wasn’t dying, the attraction of seeing celebrities is far less interesting in an age where you can hop on social media to read their opinions, watch them on the crowded late show circuit or hear them talk candidly on dozens of podcasts. Filmmakers and performers are more accessible today than ever before, and even the musical performances have less weight when you can hear those songs anytime, anywhere and watch a thousand clips of anyone onstage instantly through a dozen other avenues.
Without the draw of celebrity, comedy and musical performances, what’s left? The awards themselves, which are still an honor to receive for most filmmakers. Unfortunately, the fact that AMPAS was willing to cut the cinematography and editing awards from the broadcast, concepts that literally define cinema, speaks volumes to their priorities: ratings and theatrics. AMPAS is fighting a losing battle against shifting trends in television, and every year they continue to adhere to their outdated formula, they do a disservice to cinema. A four-hour slog of painfully safe monologues and overwrought performances peppered with awards where those honored are allowed 45 seconds in the spotlight is hardly a celebration of film.
If you truly want to celebrate film on Sunday night for four hours, skip the awards ceremony and watch any two of these nominated films available online: “First Reformed” (Amazon), “BlacKkKlansman” (Amazon), “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” (Netflix), “Roma” (Netflix), “Isle of Dogs” (Amazon), “RBG” (Hulu), “Minding the Gap” (Hulu), “Free Solo” (Amazon).
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