The Academy Awards, or "Oscars," have been the biggest show business night in Hollywood since the 1930s. But the TV ratings collapse of this year's broadcast on ABC may be putting that status at risk for the first time in memory.
Full ratings for this year's telecast are now in. The Oscar ceremony audience dropped 16 percent to a six-year low. The audience was still a hefty 36.6 million people, but the gap between the Oscar audience and other award shows is shrinking. January's Golden Globes award, given by film critics, drew an audience of 20.9 million, a 10-year high and 60 percent as large an audience as the Oscars.
So what happened at the Oscars? Here are some possible clues:
- The movies that were nominated were too often quirky independent films that appealed to the vanity of the live Hollywood audience rather than the movie-going public. This year's best picture was "Birdman," a self-indulgent drama about the angst of an actor trying for a comeback. Imagine if crowd-pleasers such as "Gone Girl" or "The LEGO Movie" or "Interstellar" had been part of the competition.
- The Oscars keep getting longer. This year's marathon ran 48 minutes over its planned length, and was eight minutes longer than last year's ceremony. The board that oversees the Oscars is dominated by representatives of the technical trades that make movies happen rather than by actors, directors, and writers. That makes it impossible to have a streamlined show because cinematographers and makeup artists would rebel at any attempt to diminish their on-air role.
- Every year, the Oscars become more captive to left-wing acceptance speeches that have little to do with filmmaking. Patricia Arquette, the winner for Best Supporting Actress, ranted about equal wages for women, best songwriter winner John Legend talked about the number of African-Americans in prison and the winner for Best Director Alejandro G. Inarritu's referenced immigration reform. The award for best documentary went to "CitizenFour," a defense of Edward Snowden's release of classified material from the National Security Agency.
"Hollywood can't help itself," Christian Toto, a conservative film critic, told the New York Daily News. Indeed, it appears to be helpless in the face of declining ratings and sagging movie audiences.
It would rather be left — and left behind — than examine its business model or the Oscar ceremony itself. No wonder conservatives believe there is a real opportunity to provide Hollywood competition in the realm of streaming video and independent filmmaking.
John Fund is an expert on American politics where politics and economics and legal issues meet. He previously served as a columnist and editorial board member for The Wall Street Journal. He is the author of several books, including "Who's Counting: Bow Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote At Risk," "Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy,” and "The Dangers of Regulation Through Litigation." He worked as a research analyst for the California Legislature in Sacramento before beginning his journalism career as a reporter for the syndicated columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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